Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Creating Jobs"

A report from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, The Depression in Blue Collar Labor Markets in Massachusetts and the U.S., presents the following table:

If that holds true across the nation, as I expect is largely the case, it is easier to see why the jobless rate is so high - and why it's so difficult to attack unemployment. In a real estate crash, with a worsening commercial real estate sector, it's not very realistic to expect a significant number of construction jobs to emerge, even with huge stimulus bills. Despite a government effort to save General Motors and Chrysler, without which the manufacturing jobs picture would look a lot worse, there's no obvious way to generate more domestic manufacturing jobs.

So instead you have people who may well have strong vocational skills, but who are competing for jobs that have for now disappeared from the economy, or are trying to find jobs in other fields where job availability is better, but for which they lack experience and often also lack appropriate job skills.

Even if it's part of a solution, I don't see the answer as being "a bigger jobs bill", and as I've previously observed it's pretty clear why a lot of government tactics appear designed to "reinflate" the housing bubble - how else are you going to affect unemployment in the construction sector, which is so high that it distorts the overall unemployment picture and is unlikely to significantly improve over the next few years by any other means? About the only thing the government can do is create a massive "public works" program to directly employ a significant percentage of the population until the jobs picture improves - and I don't think that's politically viable, even if it could be done in a relatively cost-effective manner and we could identify appropriate work for the program to perform.

The report does make suggestions, but I just don't see how they can be implemented on anywhere near the necessary scale to make a short-term difference, or even how they will benefit the majority of the affected workers in the longer term. The numbers are just too large, and the impediments to creating stable, long-term manufacturing jobs or new construction jobs cannot be discounted.


  1. Concur for the most part - the only kind of job bill/public works package that I can see making sense/having any chance at all of passing would be something related to infrastructure (. . . and how many jobs would RR and bridge construction really create . . .).

    Jobs creation or not, it would be nice to see the US develop a viable rail system, something akin to the one operating in Western Europe.


  2. I have a vision of "high speed rail" in this country tripping over the same issues that make rail travel so inefficient. In theory, high speed rail should be on new rail lines, but I have a hard time imagining that the rail lines would be built to be independent of the freight network - which will continue to have priority.

    And then let's consider a current rail trip from Ann Arbor to Chicago. It stops at any number of tiny stations along the way, each of which will want the high speed rail to continue to stop there. So the train may reach a higher peak speed before slowing down, stopping, picking up passengers, and waiting for a freight train to clear.

    I suspect high speed rail will be most viable on the same point-to-point trips that currently do well for air travel, while picking up and dropping off passengers at more convenient locations than airports (i.e. in or near the city center rather than in a comparatively or literally remote airport).

    Rail cars also need to return to the concept of comfort. The last time I traveled Amtrak the seating was uncomfortable, surprisingly crowded and... well, let's just say there's a reason that, when polled, about 80% of frequent flyers want to keep a "no cell phones" rule even if cell phones are declared to be 100% safe to use during flight.

  3. At least there "is" a Chicago to A2 route . . . the DC to Michigan rail route involved traveling to Chicago and then waiting eight or so hours to catch a different train to A2 or Detroit.

    Hi-speed rail would work well on the existing "East Coast corridor" - but I wouldn't mind seeing an expansion of rail (traditional or hi-speed) in other areas. We currently subsidize auto and air, why not the more efficient rail?

    If we improved rail service enough to get people to actually use it, we could probably deal with the "every small town" and quality problems by creating express and local runs . ..



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