Only 47% of Working Age Americans Have Full Time Jobs


Russell Lee Last Chance Texaco October 1937
“Abandoned garage on Highway No. 2. Western North Dakota”

Ilargi: VK, roving reporter for The Automatic Earth, has been playing with the numbers from the January 7 employment report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It seems valuable to look at unemployment from this, a different, angle. Some of it may even surprise you.

The total non institutional civilian labor force (Americans 16 years and older who are not in a institution -criminal, mental, or other types of facilities- or an active military duty) is reported as 238.889 million. Of these, we see:

  • Employed: 139.206 million people (58.3% of labor force)
  • Unemployed: 14.485 million people (6.1% of labor force)

Obviously, that can’t be the total picture, we’re only at 64.4%. This is why:

  • Part time employed for economic reasons: 8.931 million people. This concerns people who want a full-time job but can’t get one.
  • Part time employed for non-economic reasons: 18.184 million people. Non-economic reasons include school or training, retirement or Social Security limits on earnings, but also childcare problems and family or personal obligations.

But the by far largest category “missing” from both the Employed and Unemployed statistics is the “Not In Labor Force”: 85.2 Million people.

The BLS definition states: “Not in the labor force (NILF). A person who did not work last week, was not temporarily absent from a job, did not actively look for work in the previous 4 weeks, or looked but was unavailable for work during the reference week; in other words, a person who was neither employed nor unemployed.” (Clearly, this does include lot of unemployed people).

To summarize: 108.616 million people in America are either unemployed, underemployed or “Not in the labor force”. This represents 45.5% of working age Americans.

If you count the “Part time employed for non-economic reasons”, you get 126.8 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed, working part time or “Not in the labor force”. That represents 53% of working age Americans.

So only 47% of working age Americans have full time jobs. While the official unemployment rate is 9.4%. Something’s missing somewhere.

A few more factoids on the topic:

  • Today, the long term unemployed make up 42% of total unemployed. That is to say, of course, those who are actually counted as unemployed instead of “Not in the labor force”.
  • 43.2 million Americans receive foodstamps. That’s 18.1% of all working age Americans. If they all have on average 1.5 dependents, which is probably a reasonable estimate, a full one third of the US population receives at least part of their food through this system.

Of course, these are not really stamps anymore, or any sort of paper, they’re now “food stamp debit cards”. Michael Snyder at Economic Collapse dug up an ABC News article from April 2009, which deals with the fact that JPMorgan Chase is one of the main servicers of the “food stamp debit cards” (in 26 states). JPMorgan also services child support debit cards (in 15 states) and unemployment insurance cards (7 states).

Granted, some things may have changed somewhat since the article was written, but even just the very ideas that are the foundation of schemes like these are worth looking at. Because, naturally, JPMorgan does this to make a profit. Says ABC:

Take Indiana. JP Morgan gets 62 to 64 cents for each food stamp case handled monthly there. With 296,245 cases right now, that means the state is paying JP Morgan $183,672 a month on top of any other fees it collects. Indiana eliminated 100 full-time employees when it hired JP Morgan to make the program cost-neutral [..].

But the greatest statement the article makes, and the reason ABC looked into this in the first place, is that JPMorgan outsourced its call and service centers for the “food stamp debit cards” to India. If that isn’t indicative of the level to which ethics and morals have sunk, I don’t know what is. You could conceivably create a lot of jobs for Americans in these service centers, which would get them off food stamps! For starters.

Another great example of the loss of morality was noted by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa at Reuters late last week:

Accounting tweak could save Fed from losses

Concerns that the Federal Reserve could suffer losses on its massive bond holdings may have driven the central bank to adopt a little-noticed accounting change with huge implications: it makes insolvency much less likely. The significant shift was tucked quietly into the Fed’s weekly report on its balance sheet and phrased in such technical terms that it was not even reported by financial media when originally announced on January 6.

But the new rules have slowly begun to catch the attention of market analysts. Many are at once surprised that the Fed can set its own guidelines, and also relieved that the remote but dangerous possibility that the world’s most powerful central bank might need to ask the U.S. Treasury or its member banks for money is now more likely to be averted.

“Could the Fed go broke? The answer to this question was ‘Yes,’ but is now ‘No,'” said Raymond Stone, managing director at Stone & McCarthy in Princeton, New Jersey. “An accounting methodology change at the central bank will allow the Fed to incur losses, even substantial losses, without eroding its capital.”

The change essentially allows the Fed to denote losses by the various regional reserve banks that make up the Fed system as a liability to the Treasury rather than a hit to its capital. It would then simply direct future profits from Fed operations toward that liability. This enhances transparency by providing clearer, more frequent, snapshots of the central bank’s finances, analysts say. The bonus: the number can now turn negative without affecting the central bank’s underlying financial condition.

“Any future losses the Fed may incur will now show up as a negative liability as opposed to a reduction in Fed capital, thereby making a negative capital situation technically impossible [..]”. “The timing of the change is not coincidental, as politicians and market participants alike have expressed concerns since the announcement (of a second round of asset buys) about the possibility of Fed ‘insolvency’ in a scenario where interest rates rise significantly [..]”

You just have to love this one: at the stroke of a pen, it has become impossible for the Federal Reserve to incur losses. They’re all simply written down as “liabilities to the Treasury”. Yes, that would be you! And the Fed can keep on buying any and all toxic paper they can lay their hands on. They can accept as collateral “assets” from Wall Street that are not worth the paper they’re written on (and there’s a lot of that) and stick you with the bill by pressing a key.

It’s time to seriously start wondering why the US still holds elections. Given that Congress can be bypassed this way through a sort of accounting that if it isn’t yet illegal certainly should be, and which will burden Americans with trillions of dollars in additional debt, we might as well let Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest organize Indecision 2012.

One thing, though, for all members of Congress: when you get to debate raising the debt ceiling this spring, make absolutely sure that these newfangled “liabilities to the Treasury” are included in the national debt. It’s either that or Mammon rules for real. And I’m not trying to be funny here. This feels sort of like when a collection agency comes to your door to collect on your lost wagers, you proudly show them a piece of paper that states the debt has been transferred to your as-yet unborn grandchild, so they can’t legally touch you.

One more thing, Congress: in addition to the new “liabilities to the Treasury”, you need to also count liabilities to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac towards the national debt. It’s always been insane that they were not, but it threatens to get much, much crazier still, says Louise Story in the New York Times:

Banks Want Pieces of Fannie-Freddie Pie

As the Obama administration prepares a report on the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, some of the nation’s largest banks are offering a few suggestions. Wells Fargo and some other large banks would like private companies, perhaps even themselves, to become the new housing finance giants helping to bundle individual mortgages into securities — that would be stamped with a government guarantee.

The banks have presented their ideas publicly through trade groups. Housing industry consultants and people familiar with recent meetings at the Treasury Department say these banks view the government’s overhaul of the mortgage market as a potential profit opportunity. Treasury officials have met with executives from several institutions, including Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse, according to a public listing of the meetings.

The administration’s report, to be released later this month, is expected to be sweeping and could address basic questions like whether a government guarantee is needed at all for middle-class homeowners. While other arms of the government are dedicated to making loans available to lower-income borrowers, Fannie and Freddie have helped lower rates for the bulk of homeowners. Some Republicans are trying to narrow this broad role, and on Thursday, several conservative researchers released a proposal on how to do so.

But banks, for their part, have told the administration that removing the guarantee would wipe out the widespread availability of the 30-year mortgage, fundamentally reshaping the American housing market. Though some other countries do not promote long mortgages, some analysts warn that such a change would be devastating to the market here. At firms like Goldman, analysts are predicting that a government guarantee on a broad swath of mortgage securities will survive in some form.[..]

Even if large banks are not allowed to give a government guarantee, they might have control over the private companies by investing in them or by placing representatives on their boards

Yes, I know, solving Fannie and Freddie is a Herculean task. Nobody wants to shake the housing market any more than it already has been. That is, of course, nobody except for potential homebuyers. And yes, dissolving Fannie and Freddie will greatly increase the “official” US debt. It will also mean the end of the major Wall Street banks.

But if the only alternative is to give those banks, who would long be broke and live on only as zombies and even that only because of accounting tricks, the ability to hand out loans and invest in securities (and potentially other derivatives) backed by a 100% US government guarantee (how thick can you lay on moral hazard?), you will be directly responsible for destroying your grandchildren’s America.

Yes, the demise of Wall Street, and of housing prices, will mean a tough time ahead for everyone. But at least you’ll still have such items as pride and honor and dignity and patriotism and an American Dream left. Giving in to the model of Wall Street as government backed lenders, investors and speculators, while the dangers of doing so are plain for everyone to see, just to a gain a little bit of time, would rob you of all of these items. Your grandchildren would spit on your graves. Is it worth it?

The Automatic Earth