Whenever Paul Ryan speaks on the need to reform the welfare state, he declares that what the United States needs is a social safety net, and not a hammock. The idea is easy to understand: A net is meant as a last resort, to keep you from serious danger; a hammock, by contrast, is designed to keep you comfortable or—in Ryan’s words—“lull able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”
Although the economy is still improving at a glacial pace, as evidenced by this month's slowing job growth, companies and CEOs have returned to their pre-recession heights, with a stock market at a four-year high to match. In 2007, S&P 500 companies created an average of $378,000 in revenue for every employee. Last year, that number was $420,000. Top executives are doing okay too—the median income of the top 100 CEOs is $14.4 million.
The economy added 120,000 nonfarm jobs in March—far less impressive growth than February's 240,000 jobs, which were revised upward from last months estimate of 227,000. The unemployment rate dropped 0.1 percent to 8.2 percent, according to today's Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Economists had predicted that 205,000jobs would be added in March. The numbers released today are far lower than expectations, and the +150,000 threshold needed to keep job growth at pace with population growth.
For the March jobs report, economists were expecting another month where the economy grew by more than 200,000 jobs. Instead, what we received—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—was a disappointing backslide into the anemic months of last fall. The economy created 120,000 jobs in March, a huge drop compared to previous months. At the same time, however, the unemployment rate dropped to 8.2 percent.
In the week that ended March 31, jobless claims droppedto 357,000—the lowest they have been in four years, according to new numbers from the Labor Department. Pennsylvania posted the biggest drop in claims—1,956—while Texas posted the highest jump—4,185. The steady gains that have been happening since the fall are likely due to fewer layoffs and the strengthening of the labor market, as proved once again by last month's private-sector jobs numbers.
Auto sales were on the upswing in March, thanks to a thirst for fuel-efficient vehicles and the unseasonably warm weather. Automakers sold 1.4 million light vehicles last month, with hybrids and more efficient models leading the way. General Motors sold over 100,000 models that get 30+ miles to the gallon—accounting for almost half of the 231,052 cars sold in March. U.S. sales on Toyota Prius hybrids jumped 54 percent last month to 28,711 cars—a record for the company. Chrysler had the best month of sales it has had in four years—a 34 percent jump from this time last year.
A new report from the Institute for Supply Management shows that manufacturing employment reached a nine-month high in March, and that the manufacturing sector is on a 32-month growth streak. The steady growth in the United States is a marked contrast from Europe, where manufacturing hit a three-month low last month. The healthy manufacturing numbers released yesterday are further fueling economists' predictions that the March jobs numbers—scheduled to be released Friday—will again top 200,000.
Americans committed to development and to the U.S. playing a positive role on the global stage should encourage President Barack Obama to announce his support for an open, transparent, and meritocratic process in selecting the next leader of the World Bank. In the past, other countries have simply deferred to the U.S. to nominate a new head, whose selection was then followed by a pro forma up-or-down vote by the World Bank’s board. The U.S. has now nominated Dr. Jim Yong Kim, currently president of Dartmouth. In part because of the disastrous consequences of Bush ramming through Paul Wolfowitz, who later was forced to resign, other countries put forward nominees, including the Africans also put forward a nominee: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Eurostat—the European Union's statistics agency—says unemployment in the eurozone went up by 162,000 in February. Total unemployment reached 17.134 million—10.8 percent—after ten straight months of rising, the highest recorded figure since the data began being compiled in January 1995. "We expect it to go higher, to reach 11 percent by the end of the year,” said Raphael Brun-Aguerre, an economist at JPMorgan. “You have public sector job cuts, income going down, weak consumption. The economic growth outlook is negative and is going to worsen unemployment.”
Everyone involved in politics knows that there is almost nothing the president can do to affect the price of gasoline. Democrats know this. Republicans know this. People in the oil industry certainly know this. But they all, at various times, play a game in which they try to deceive the American public into believing something they know to be false. So right now, an oil industry group is running ads saying the high price of gas is Barack Obama's fault (you'll be shocked to hear that the ubiquitous Koch brothers are involved). Republican leaders are saying the increasing price at the pump is Obama's fault. And what about the public? Are they buying it?
The polls we've seen so far actually show that the answer is, not really...
Becki Jacobson, 48, has worked as a process technician at American Crystal Sugar Company in Minnesota since she was 18. Eight months ago, she showed up for work, but the company refused to let her start her shift.
Like 1,300 other members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco & Grain Millers union (BCTGM) at American Crystal Sugar, Jacobson wasn’t fired. She was locked out. Crystal Sugar is wielding a powerful weapon against its workers: Its right to deny them work for refusing a worse contract after their existing one expired. Jacobson and her co-workers are left with a choice. They can hold out while non-union workers do their jobs, make huge concessions, or dissolve the union.
Since the MegaMillions jackpot is now at a record $540 million, I thought it'd be a good time to link back to an interview interview I did in 2010 with the brilliant filmmaker Jeffrey Blitz, whom you may know from his Oscar-nominated documentary "Spellbound," or his excellent feature film "Rocket Science." I interviewed him about his film "Lucky," which offers portraits of lottery winners to see how their lives changed after coming in to millions of dollars. The film doesn't offer simple answers to the questions it poses, but overall it's not a pretty picture. Here's an excerpt:
You have one subject who had his siblings put a hit out on him (unsuccessful, I should note). Were there any other depths of human depravity this subject exposed that surprised you?
That was a winner named Buddy who, indeed, had his siblings try to kill him. Once was through a hit man. Buddy also told us that the bolts were taken out of his car and that he was given arsenic twice. And while this gives the movie some really wretched moments, I tried hard to not make a film that just fed into an audience's built-in sense of resentment toward people who had won money they didn't deserve...
Larry Summers has been unnaturally silent on President Obama’s surprise decision to pass him over for the World Bank presidency in favor of Dartmouth University president and public health hero Jim Yong Kim. Well, one of Summers’ closest chums at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Lant Pritchett, has now gone public with a scorching blast at Kim. Pritchett toldForbes magazine, “It’s an embarrassment to the U.S. You cannot with a straight face say this person is the most qualified to lead the World Bank.”
More mixed signals from the Obama administration on jobs: A craven capitulation on regulation in the name of job-creation, and a surprisingly good speech by a top official on the importance of American manufacturing.
President Barack Obama will shortly sign the so-called bipartisan “JOBS” Act. The law is neither about creating jobs, nor is it bipartisan. The law exempts an estimated 80 percent of new publicly traded corporations from the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) usual disclosure requirements for up to five years after their initial public offering (IPO).