I wrote earlier about what the jobs numbers mean for the 2012 election (hint: they are not good for the current administration). But at some level, who cares? This is the aspect that concerns Washington most, but it is surely the least important consideration: neither Barack Obama, nor his staff, are going to have any trouble finding new employment in the event that they are terminated come January 2013.
But for people who are not in the White House, the implications really are devastating. Unemployment is one of the most devastating things that can happen to you in American society. Long-term unemployment is expecially bad--and that's what we're suffering from. It has been at unprecedented highs in this recession. You can see the job market story in three graphs from the BLS JOLTS survey, which measures turnover.
The above graph shows separations, hires, and the unemployment rate. What it shows is that separations didn't rise during the recession--except for a brief uptick during the financial crisis, they actually fell. That seems to be because people stopped quitting their jobs, which by late 2009, is offsetting layoffs:
But as of April, the latest JOLTS data that's available, hiring had only recovered slightly. (And of course, in the last two months, it basically fell back to zero net new jobs.) That means that we're left with a giant overhang of unemployed people.
That's why long-term unemployment has become such a problem. Our unemployment problem is not, as in previous recessions, that too many people are entering unemployment. Layoffs and discharges are actually lower than they've been in a decade. Rather, our problem is that people aren't exiting unemployment. And that's a much bigger issue.
Human capital is like almost any other form of capital: it is a depreciating asset. The longer you stay out of the workforce, the less valuable you are to potential employers. You lose market intelligence and industry connections. Your technical knowledge and skills atrophy. And as my colleague Don Peck wrote in a devastating piece last year, the psychological effects of long-term unemployment change you permanently. Many of the people who have now been unemployed for years may never work again, or not at anything like the income that they had been expecting.
I was unemployed for basically two years between the time I graduated from business school in 2001, and the time I accepted a job with The Economist in 2003. I was much luckier than most people in that situation, both because my parents let me stay in their spare bedroom, and because I was working during much of that time--freelancing, flirting with a start up, doing some tech consulting, and of course, working in a trailer at Ground Zero. But none of these were permanent, and at the time, it wasn't clear that any of them were going to turn into something. I felt the isolation and the desperate fear of everyone who doesn't have a "real job", the people who don't know how they're going to earn enough over the next forty years to keep body and soul together. I experienced real despair for the first time in my life. And it changed me, permanently.
The least important change was the one that is best measured: people who have a bout of unemployment at the beginning of their careers still earn less than their peers ten years later. What really matters is how it changed my outlook on the world. I became afraid then in a way that has never really left me. I obsess about economic security. I catastrophize small setbacks. Before 2001, I was fairly blithely indifferent to the prospect of misfortune; now I spend an awful lot of time cataloguing everything that could possibly go wrong. My grandfather used to hide pretty substantial sums of money around the house, the legacy of the Great Depression's bank failures, which I thought was very funny. Now it sounds sort of sensible.
There was also the crushing sense of isolation, and failure. I avoided friends who found my unemployment an awkward topic of non-conversation. I couldn't do much of anything else, because I didn't have any money. And dating was . . . awkward. I remember being on a date with someone who took me to see Avenue Q. It was a great show--but hard to enjoy as I writhed at its similarity to my own life, and at what the guy next to me must be thinking. (We ended up dating for years, and when I finally told that story, much later, he was incredulous. "Are you nuts?" Yes, yes I was.)
When I was finally offered a job by The Economist, I was taken aback; I had stopped believing anything good would happen, ever. Then I blurted "I'll take it" before I even asked how much it would pay. As soon as I got off the phone with my new boss, I called my boyfriend (Avenue Q guy, now a year in), said "I got a job", and then, to my surprise and horror, burst into tears. It is the only time in my life, except for my wedding, that I have cried from joy.
And that's what happens to the long-term unemployed who were young and flexible when it happened, who find awesome careers that are way better than the career track they got knocked off of, who had terrific familial support, and enough temporary or part-time work to have no immediate fears about where their next meal was coming from. Now think about what is happening to millions of people out there who don't have that: whose savings and social networks are exhausted (or were never very big to begin with), who are in their fifties and not young enough to retire, but very hard to place with an employer who will pay them as much as they were worth to their old firm. Think of the people who can't support their children, or themselves. Think of their despair.
That is what these numbers mean: millions of people, staring into the abyss of an empty future. We don't know how to re-employ them. The last time this happened, in the Great Depression, World War II eventually came along and soaked up everyone in the labor force who could breathe and carry a toolbag. I hope to God we're not going to do that again, so what are we going to do with all these people?
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Even when a dentist kills an adored lion, and everyone is furious, there’s loftier righteousness to be had.
Now is the point in the story of Cecil the lion—amid non-stop news coverage and passionate social-media advocacy—when people get tired of hearing about Cecil the lion. Even if they hesitate to say it.
But Cecil fatigue is only going to get worse. On Friday morning, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri, called for the extradition of the man who killed him, the Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Muchinguri would like Palmer to be “held accountable for his illegal action”—paying a reported $50,000 to kill Cecil with an arrow after luring him away from protected land. And she’s far from alone in demanding accountability. This week, the Internet has served as a bastion of judgment and vigilante justice—just like usual, except that this was a perfect storm directed at a single person. It might be called an outrage singularity.
The new version of Apple’s signature media software is a mess. What are people with large MP3 libraries to do?
When the developer Erik Kemp designed the first metadata system for MP3s in 1996, he provided only three options for attaching text to the music. Every audio file could be labeled with only an artist, song name, and album title.
Kemp’s system has since been augmented and improved upon, but never replaced. Which makes sense: Like the web itself, his schema was shipped, good enough,and an improvement on the vacuum which preceded it. Those three big tags, as they’re called, work well with pop and rock written between 1960 and 1995. This didn’t prevent rampant mislabeling in the early days of the web, though, as anyone who remembers Napster can tell you. His system stumbles even more, though, when it needs to capture hip hop’s tradition of guest MCs or jazz’s vibrant culture of studio musicianship.
A leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity shares her research on where genius comes from, whether it is dependent on high IQ—and why it is so often accompanied by mental illness.
As a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who studies creativity, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many gifted and high-profile subjects over the years, but Kurt Vonnegut—dear, funny, eccentric, lovable, tormented Kurt Vonnegut—will always be one of my favorites. Kurt was a faculty member at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the 1960s, and participated in the first big study I did as a member of the university’s psychiatry department. I was examining the anecdotal link between creativity and mental illness, and Kurt was an excellent case study.
He was intermittently depressed, but that was only the beginning. His mother had suffered from depression and committed suicide on Mother’s Day, when Kurt was 21 and home on military leave during World War II. His son, Mark, was originally diagnosed with schizophrenia but may actually have bipolar disorder. (Mark, who is a practicing physician, recounts his experiences in two books, The Eden Express and Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So, in which he reveals that many family members struggled with psychiatric problems. “My mother, my cousins, and my sisters weren’t doing so great,” he writes. “We had eating disorders, co-dependency, outstanding warrants, drug and alcohol problems, dating and employment problems, and other ‘issues.’ ”)
The Vermont senator’s revolutionary zeal has met its moment.
There’s no way this man could be president, right? Just look at him: rumpled and scowling, bald pate topped by an entropic nimbus of white hair. Just listen to him: ranting, in his gravelly Brooklyn accent, about socialism. Socialism!
And yet here we are: In the biggest surprise of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, this thoroughly implausible man, Bernie Sanders, is a sensation.
He is drawing enormous crowds—11,000 in Phoenix, 8,000 in Dallas, 2,500 in Council Bluffs, Iowa—the largest turnout of any candidate from any party in the first-to-vote primary state. He has raised $15 million in mostly small donations, to Hillary Clinton’s $45 million—and unlike her, he did it without holding a single fundraiser. Shocking the political establishment, it is Sanders—not Martin O’Malley, the fresh-faced former two-term governor of Maryland; not Joe Biden, the sitting vice president—to whom discontented Democratic voters looking for an alternative to Clinton have turned.
Forget credit hours—in a quest to cut costs, universities are simply asking students to prove their mastery of a subject.
MANCHESTER, Mich.—Had Daniella Kippnick followed in the footsteps of the hundreds of millions of students who have earned university degrees in the past millennium, she might be slumping in a lecture hall somewhere while a professor droned. But Kippnick has no course lectures. She has no courses to attend at all. No classroom, no college quad, no grades. Her university has no deadlines or tenure-track professors.
Instead, Kippnick makes her way through different subject matters on the way to a bachelor’s in accounting. When she feels she’s mastered a certain subject, she takes a test at home, where a proctor watches her from afar by monitoring her computer and watching her over a video feed. If she proves she’s competent—by getting the equivalent of a B—she passes and moves on to the next subject.
The authors in the running for Britain's most prestigious literary award come from seven countries and include seven women writers.
The longlist for the Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards, was announced Wednesday. For the second year, the prize was open to writers of any nationality who publish books in English in the U.K., and this year five American writers made the list of 13 contenders, chosen by five judges from a pool of 156 total works.
The U.S. is, in fact, the most well-represented country, with other entrants hailing from Great Britain, Jamaica, New Zealand, Nigeria, Ireland, and India. There are three debut novelists and one former winner on the list, and women writers outnumber men seven to six. From dystopian and political novels to a multitude of iterations on the family drama, the selections capture the ever-changing human experience in very different ways.
A controversial treatment shows promise, especially for victims of trauma.
It’s straight out of a cartoon about hypnosis: A black-cloaked charlatan swings a pendulum in front of a patient, who dutifully watches and ping-pongs his eyes in turn. (This might be chased with the intonation, “You are getting sleeeeeepy...”)
Unlike most stereotypical images of mind alteration—“Psychiatric help, 5 cents” anyone?—this one is real. An obscure type of therapy known as EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is gaining ground as a potential treatment for people who have experienced severe forms of trauma.
Here’s the idea: The person is told to focus on the troubling image or negative thought while simultaneously moving his or her eyes back and forth. To prompt this, the therapist might move his fingers from side to side, or he might use a tapping or waving of a wand. The patient is told to let her mind go blank and notice whatever sensations might come to mind. These steps are repeated throughout the session.
Members of Colombia's younger generation say they “will not torture for tradition.”
MEDELLÍN, Colombia—On a scorching Saturday in February, hundreds of young men and women in Medellín stripped down to their swimsuit bottoms, slathered themselves in black and red paint, and sprawled out on the hot cement in Los Deseos Park in the north of the city. From my vantage point on the roof of a nearby building, the crowd of seminude protesters formed the shape of a bleeding bull—a vivid statement against the centuries-old culture of bullfighting in Colombia.
It wasn’t long ago that Colombia was among the world’s most important countries for bullfighting, due to the quality of its bulls and its large number of matadors. In his 1989 book Colombia: Tierra de Toros (“Colombia: Land of Bulls”), Alberto Lopera chronicled the maturation of the sport that Spanish conquistadors had introduced to South America in the 16th century, from its days as an unorganized brouhaha of bulls and booze in colonial plazas to a more traditional Spanish-style spectacle whose fans filled bullfighting rings across the country.
50 years after closing its schools to fight racial integration, a Virginia county still feels the effects.
I was sitting in the dark den of the last living founder of the white private school I had attended, an academy established after public schools in my Virginia hometown were closed in 1959 to avoid desegregation. Having worked as a reporter for years, I was used to uncomfortable conversations. But this one felt different. This conversation was personal.
I wanted to interview Robert E. Taylor about desegregation in Prince Edward County and to find out how he felt about it in 2006, decades later. Weeks before his death, he told me he was still a “segregationist” and expressed no remorse for the school closings. Breathing with the help of an oxygen machine, he used tired stereotypes to describe black teenagers in my hometown as dating white teens, impregnating them, and leaving the teenage girls’ families with “pinto” babies that nobody would want.