Economics

Supersized Job Opportunities?

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Tyler Cowen, sticking up for economic turbulence in the WSJ:

In short, America is not becoming a nation of part-time Wal-Mart cashiers or burger flippers. In four of the five sectors studied by the authors–semiconductors, software, financial services, retail food and trucking–the growth rate for full-time jobs exceeds the growth rate for jobs in general. (Retail food is the exception.) Separate research, conducted by Ann Huff Stevens at the University of California, Davis, shows that the average tenure for employed U.S. male laborers has been broadly stable over the past 35 years.

In the aggregate, writes Cowen, "as workers lose jobs in one niche or sector, they gain in another, moving on to better jobs and higher pay." So quit yer bitchin', America. Things are getting better.

Perhaps, though, all the squabbles about the labor market are really just about quality of life for individual Average American Joes. But as Tyler Cowen has noted, "As Virginia Postrel has noted, Best Buy is full of people–few of them rich–buying flat-screen TVs. The obsession with measuring median wages misses a broader story about growing wealth, higher asset values, growing flexibility, growing buffers against risk, and growing opportunities for consumption."

He's reviewing the creatively titled Economic Turbulence: Is a Volitile Economy Good for America?.

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. Whoa — who is that hot, chubby white-bearded man in the red suit, hands clasped on his oversize belly? Who said Reason never makes female-friendly ads…

  2. I’m glad to see that the economy is doing well, and we’re not just a bunch of Walmart employees, though there’s nothing wrong with that, except that we use part-time Walmart employment as the yardstick for shitty.

  3. except that we use part-time Walmart employment as the yardstick for shitty.

    Yeah. I’d think unemployment would be the stick.

  4. Yeah. I’d think unemployment would be the stick.

    No, that’s the carrot.

  5. Has anybody read this book? Just want to know before I pick it up.

  6. If you think about it, the guy is making a pretty mundane point; destruction is necessary for creation. I am sure it was lousy to be a buggy maker who lost out to the car. But, many of the people who made buggies ended up better off in other fields. In addition society was better off for thier talents being used more productively. No unemployment would mean every company in existance today would exist forever. That would just be another word for stagnation.

  7. “I’d think unemployment would be the stick.”

    I think “unemployment” is not the yardstick for job crappiness because unemployment is not a job.

  8. But I guess Walmart isn’t much of a job either, that’s why they used it as the lowpoint, along with burger flippers.

  9. Isn’t it possible that the reason that people are buying flat screen tvs, playstations, bigger houses, etc, is not because they have the money to do so–but beacuse they are going deeper and deeper into consumer debt?

  10. “But I guess Walmart isn’t much of a job either, that’s why they used it as the lowpoint, along with burger flippers.”

    I know several people who work at Wall Mart don’t think it is too bad. I had a secretary when I got out of law school whose husband started there out of high school and ended up managing one of those stores and making a hell a lot of money. His wife basically worked for fun, which showed in her work. It is not the best job, but there are a lot worse ones out there. Try working for the typical small businness; low pay, a cheap cash strapped owner and no where to go.

  11. I think the “yardstick” has to be the people paid to wave signs at intersections. Have told the wife numerous times that if the minimum wage is ever raised (we live in Kansas) those folks are out of a shitty job.

  12. I hadn’t been in WalMart for a long time and dropped into a Super Store in Tucson for some shotgun shells (can’t find them at WalMart in Californicate). Dude, they were cheap. Way cheaper than anything I’ve seen on the fabulosoh I-net. Sixteen bucks for a hundred 2.75 inchers. Then I found a really cool stainless and walnut pocket knife for my boy (so he can get expelled from public school) for FIVE BUCKS. Five Bucks. How is that possible?

    Everyone who worked there was really nice, even the guys in Sporting Goods who lectured on the undesirable nature of living in the great state of Californicate. None of the employees working Turkey Day seemed unhappy, in fact, several told me to have a nice day.

    I’m thinking about shopping there more often.

  13. Smacky, Santa is running a close second to the blue haired elf chick that keeps popping up on my screen here at H&R. I mean, she’s WAAAAYYYYY too young to have blue hair.

  14. Isn’t it possible that the reason that people are buying flat screen tvs, playstations, bigger houses, etc, is not because they have the money to do so–but beacuse they are going deeper and deeper into consumer debt?

    Somebody made that point not too long ago, and it was then debunked. I can’t remember who or where. Maybe go to cafehayek or the Kling/Caplan blog and search on “Elizabeth Warren.”

  15. I beleive the true nadir of “shitty” jobs is the guys who make a business of cleaning up dog poop in people’s back yards.

    Last time I looked, this was a growing “service” industry.

  16. I would really like to see how that could be debunked. For example, IIRC the average consumer credit card debt in American households is around $10,000.

  17. The reason why people get so worked up is that getting a better job is less of an increase in utility than losing a job and not being able to find a new one. So the unemployed factory workers are really hopping mad, and everyone else is sort of mildly happier. The squeaky wheel gets noticed, and it looks like things are worse when they’re really not.

  18. John,

    I know that there is some money to be made in Walmart, but the WSJ cited those jobs as bottom of the barrel. I never thought I’d see that. Walmart and burger flippers. I, personally, can think of a lot of jobs crappier than any part-time Walmart gig.

    Anony/jp: I think there’s probably a mix of people getting more wealthy and others sinking more into debt. Stratification is a devil of an issue, but not for this post.

  19. Re: Consumer debt. Not a ‘debunking’, but an anecdotal data point. Right now, I’d add to the ‘large consumer debt’ number, even though I normally never carry any credit card debt. But now, I have a little over 6K on a credit card (so I really wanted a really cool oven, sue me). I have the cash to pay it off, but guess what? It’s at 0% and I’ve stashed the 6K in a money market making 5%+. Guess what? I just moved it to another introductory 0% card for another year. I figure in 10 years, I’ll have a free stove! 🙂 I will probably add to the high consumer debt statistic, but I’m actually making money on it right now. As I know serveral people who have moved debt around on 0% interest cards for a long period of time (not necessarily making money, but not wasting a lot on interest either), I wonder how much this sort of behavior affects the consumber debt numbers.
    -Karl

  20. anony

    http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/Banking/creditcardsmarts/P74808.asp

    There you go. Averages, dont always tell the truth. Only about ten percent of credit card holders have 10,000 or more in credit card debt. And almost 25% of the population don’t even have credit cards. Not that there isn’t a problem, but on average we are a wealthy country.

  21. anony,

    Your argument was not that consumer debt load was high, but that it was rapidly rising to pay for flat screen TVs. Got any data saying that consumer debt is rising faster than inflation? Given that, got any data saying that those with rising debt loads are splurging on “rampant consumerism” and not just accruing debt to pay the mortgage and the grocery bill?

    I suspect that you’ve got an axe to grind about “consumer culture”. While those impressions often ring true, they are usually distortions of perception and do not hold up to objective scrutiny.

  22. Rimfax-
    I think you misunderstand me. Im not some “adbuster” who thinks buying flat screen tvs and playstations is “immoral consumer culture” or some other tripe. IF people can really afford those things, thats great–we really are getting wealthier.

    I just happen to think living beyond your means and bankruptcy is not very smart, and if many people are doing it its a troubling sign.

    As to the mortgage, thats why I said *Consumer* debt, that would exclude things like mortgages and student loans.

  23. Anony,

    Well, do you have any specific data that plots out this “consumer debt” (you know, wherein plasma teevees purchased on credit are included, but groceries purchased on credit are not), next to the corresponding inflation rate? If not, then all you’re doing is positing some anecdotal fear about people spending beyond their means to acquire nonessential consumer goods. And if that indeed is the case, your woe is useless here. You may “happen to think living beyond your means and bankruptcy is not very smart”, as do most people…but unless you can show some data as it pertains to the issue at hand, then, really, what are you contributing? Some hand-wringing about some sort of anecdotal primal fear you have?

  24. I just happen to think living beyond your means and bankruptcy is not very smart, and if many people are doing it its a troubling sign.

    Well, anony, here’s a sign that perhaps you need not be troubled…bankruptcy filings are the lowest they have been in 5 years…

    http://www.uscourts.gov/Press_Releases/

  25. There’s also a guy named Jim Lindgren who contributes to Volokh Conspiracy and has done research on consumer debt and bankruptcies. I think he’s found that the numbers haven’t changed much. You can probably go to his faculty webpage (he’s a law prof) and see copies of his academic papers.

  26. “bankruptcy filings are the lowest they have been in 5 years.”

    Not sure what this has to do with the price of beans in Laos. Bankruptcy filings are an incredibly poor indicator of economic health.

  27. Bankruptcy filings are an incredibly poor indicator of economic health.

    Says you?

  28. Well, anony, here’s a sign that perhaps you need not be troubled…bankruptcy filings are the lowest they have been in 5 years…

    Uhmmm…didn’t they just change the laws to make it much harder to file for certain types of individual bankruptcy?

    Not that this proves or disproves anything, but it seems to me that this is a misleading press release. I had a family look into filing bankruptcy post law change and the bankruptcy attourney basically said : don’t bother — under the new rules you won’t qualify for anything other the payment plan.

  29. Yes, they did change the laws…I was responding to a specific concern mentioned by anony…though I happen to beleive that bankruptcy is one good sign of economic health (it is a measure of last resort or desperation, especially since the change in filing requirements), I certainly wouldn’t suggest that a single measure for anything as complex and nebulous as ‘economic health’ is particularly defining…and that would include measures like consumer debt…

  30. gaijin: Yeah, says me….and you, “I certainly wouldn’t suggest that a single measure for anything as complex and nebulous as ‘economic health’ is particularly defining.”

    I don’t find it particularly defining either. Since that is the purpose of economic indicators, I find this one to be poor.

  31. “Five Bucks. How is that possible?”

    This is what I refer to as “importing deflation.” I don’t think we’re getting away with it any more, but for a while, inexpensive imports (and efficiency improvements) meant that buying power was on the rise, even though nominal wages were not. This is something seldom mentioned in the Great Stagnating Wage Debate.

    *And no, I don’t have a peer-reviewed corroborative source.

    (Just think how cheap stuff could be if we did away with the steel tariffs)

  32. The Wine Commonsewer:

    Lots of CA Walmarts sell ammo. Those cheap Winchester and Federal 100 packs are usually available on the shelf. Most other ammo is stashed behind the counter. Urban Walmarts generally don’t however.

    CA Walmarts no longer sell firearms, however. They got busted a few years back. Apparently, There were state-wide cases of the sporting goods employees poorly trained to do the DROS paperwork.

  33. You are a true believer. Blessings of the state. Blessings of the masses. Thou art a subject of the divine. Created in the image of man, by man, for man. Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy more and be happy.

  34. You are a true believer. Blessings of the state, blessings of the masses. Thou art a subject of the divine. Created in the image of man, by the masses, for the masses. Let us be thankful we have an occupation to fill. Work hard; increase production; prevent accidents, and be happy.

  35. Thanks Shecky, maybe I just missed the ammo department in my local suburban WalMart.

  36. Walmart needs to be stopped! All it does is encourage people to value things more than people. Americans need fewer “opportunities for consumption.”

  37. That would be “V-o-l-a-t-i-l-e”.

  38. “You are a true believer. Blessings of the state, blessings of the masses. Thou art a subject of the divine. Created in the image of man, by the masses, for the masses. Let us be thankful we have an occupation to fill. Work hard; increase production; prevent accidents, and be happy.”

    scram, bucko. i’m the only dadaist wackadoodle in them thar woods.

    also you forgot to add a line about “…staring at the 60-inch digital eye, telling you ‘be not afraid,’ big enough so you can graze while you watch yourself watch”

  39. I don’t think it’s that people who buy all the big screen TVs are fortunate and can afford it. More like people are spending more on consumer goods ( and I’m certainly not opposed to consumerism mind you) that they probably shouldn’t and probably can’t afford.

    So the measurement is not wages, but the availability of debt financing for high end consumer goods that matters?

  40. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  41. ‘Walmart needs to be stopped! All it does is encourage people to value things more than people. Americans need fewer “opportunities for consumption.”‘

    My first reaction was, this is the dumbest shit I have heard all mourning. But you know, on second glance, I am really glad that there is someone out there who knows what it is that I “need”. But not just me, as an individual, all of us. After all none of us are really individuals who make choices, such as where, what, and how much to consume, but rather we are a bunch of nameless voiceless drones, summed up to make what is really important: America.

    So from now on I will vow to never again shop at Walmart, choosing say Target instead, so that I may once again re-learn to value people over consumable goods. Whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean.

  42. steveintheknow, I think that was a joke. Maybe I’m wrong.

    Maybe we need to have our satirometers recalibrated. One of us is getting bad readings.

  43. Isaac, yeah you know I think you might be right. Should have waited untill the second cup of coffee. Reminds of the prolife blogger who went nuts over the onion article about how great abortion is. Oh well, time to start working on asshole mistake # 2 of the day. 🙂

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