Unemployment looks normal for everyone except those out of work for six months or longer. If we don't act soon, the long-term unemployed will become unemployable.
There's a new cliff in town, and it's much scarier than the fiscal cliff. It doesn't have anything to do with expiring tax cuts or sequesters. It has to do with people who have been out of work for six months or longer. It's the worst cliff of them all: the Unemployment Cliff.
Our unemployment crisis is also an unemployment enigma. When jobs openings go up, unemployment should go down. This relationship is captured by the Beveridge Curve, seen below. The diagonal red line says that when there are more vacant job openings, the unemployment rate should be lower. But as you can see in the bottom right hand corner, something strange (and very bad!) is happening. More job openings haven't produced more jobs. That suggests a mismatch between jobs and skills ... the dreaded "structural unemployment."
Look again. This might be the most important chart you'll see. If unemployment really is structural, there's not much more policymakers can do to bring it down. If it's not, policymakers should be tearing their hair out to put people back to work. So, is it? No. A pioneering paper out of the Boston Fed pretty definitively shows that we have a long-term unemployment problem, not a structural unemployment problem.
There's always a story when it comes to structural unemployment, and it's almost always a story about old workers needing new skills for our brave, new economic world. The Boston Fed paper, by Rand Ghayad, a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Northeastern and Visting Fellow at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and William Dickens, a professor of economics at Northeastern and visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, looks at the Beveridge curves for different ages, industries and education levels to figure out exactly who is getting left behind nowadays. The answer is ... everybody. The Beveridge curves for young and old, blue-collar and white-collar, and high school and college graduates all look alike -- there's the same upward tick in all of them. There's a word for this, and that word is flabbergasting. As Ghayad and Dickens point out, the last time we had a structural unemployment problem was during the deindustrialization of the 1970s and 1980s, when Beveridge curves for blue-collar workers, and only blue-collar workers, moved up. Did we all wake up in 2008 and suddenly lose our skills?
Not exactly. Ghayad and Dickens broke down Beveridge curves along one more axis -- length of unemployment. Here's what it looks like for people who have been out of work for less than six months. This is what normal looks like.
This chart is worth approximately 20 words. People out of work for less than six months haven't had a harder time finding work than they usually do. But the Beveridge curve has shifted up for all workers, so that implies all of the shift must have come from people out of work for six months or more. The chart below shows us that this is indeed the unhappy case. Unemployment is a cliff that's hard to climb out of after six months.
It's hard to imagine a big skills or incentives gap between people unemployed for five months and people unemployed for six months. But it's not hard to imagine companies treating their resumes differently. Overrun HR departments might just toss the resumes of applicants who have been out of work for six months or more, because they assume there must be something wrong with people who have been out of work that long. Sadly, this isn't a hypothetical. Scott Pelley reported on firms that won't consider the long-term unemployed -- or the unemployed, period -- for 60 Minutes earlier this year. It's depressingly legal to discriminate against the unemployed, and a depressing number of companies do just that.
Circles don't get more vicious than this. The people who need work the most can't even get an interview, let alone a job. It's a cycle that could end with the long-term unemployed becoming unemployable. It's what economists call hysteresis, the idea being that a slump, left untreated, can make us permanently poorer by reducing our future ability to do and make things. You should be scared anytime you see the words "permanently" and "poorer" together in a sentence -- especially if you're a policymaker. We need more stimulus, and we need it now. That means the Fed needs to figure out its thresholds for forward guidance and Congress needs to not only undo the fiscal cliff, but also, please, give us some more infrastructure spending. Heck, Larry Summers and Brad DeLong think fiscal stimulus might even pay for itself with interest rates so low by preventing hysteresis from happening.
We can do better, if we want to. As Paul Krugman points out, people told themselves structural unemployment was to blame during the Great Depression too, only to discover that all the people who supposedly didn't have the right skills suddenly did once the military buildup started. Funny how adequate demand works. The best thing we can do for long-term growth is to forget the long-term and get the long-term unemployed back to work now.
In the long run, we can't afford to worry about the long run.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
This wasn’t terribly surprising. When Streep was asked, last year, in the course of promoting her extremely feminist film Suffragette, whether she is herself a feminist, the actor replied that, no, she isn’t. Instead: “I am a humanist,” she said. “I am for nice, easy balance.”
And why stopping it requires that governments get out of the way
As it stands, the international coalition is far from winning the information war against the Islamic State. Its air strikes may be squeezing the group in Iraq and Syria and killing many of its leaders, but that has not halted the self-proclaimed caliphate’s ideological momentum. Indeed, at the end of 2015, it was estimated that the number of foreigners travelling to join militant groups in Iraq and Syria—predominantly the Islamic State—had more than doubled in the course of just 18 months. What’s more, while these figures may be striking, sheer numbers are less important than intent when it comes to the organization’s actual threat to the world. As we have already seen, it takes a very small number of people to unleash great terror, whether in Iraq, Syria, or elsewhere.
Women in their 20s are told they're too young to settle down. Then, seemingly overnight, they start hearing they're spinsters. What gives?
Women in their 20s are told they're too young to settle down. Then, seemingly overnight, they start hearing they're spinsters. What gives?
Heterosexual women today, in certain milieus, find themselves placed into one of two categories: too young to settle down, and too old to find a man. There is a window of opportunity to get married, but it is ephemeral almost to the point of non-existence. It falls at a different age according to region, or the idiosyncratic biases of one's circle, but hovers around 27. "Too young" refers not to teen marriage, but to any commitment entered into by a grown woman deemed still a child by those around her.
Here's how it works: A young woman hears from friends and family that she needs to focus on her career or education, not some guy. She is warned of certain dangers: unsolicited male attention; unintended pregnancy, as if intended pregnancy were also a thing; and the desire hardwired into all straight men to turn their girlfriends into 1950s housewives. To entertain the possibility of it being difficult to find a husband, to even utter the expression "find a husband," is to regress to another era. And this advice is incredibly appealing, a rejection of the quaint notion that female heterosexuality is the desire not for men, but for a white picket fence.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
How those three little words sound around the world
I love saying “I love you.” I’ll say “love ya” to my parents when I’m about to get off the phone with them, and “love you!!” to my wife as she’s heading out the door for work (“love you???” on Gchat means I’ve gotten myself into trouble with her and I’m searching for a way out). I tell my son I love him, and he doesn’t even get it—he’s an infant. I’ve been known to proclaim that I love sushi and football and Benjamin Franklin (I mean, how could you not love Ben?).
Many people in this world would find my behavior rather strange. That’s because Americans are exceptionally promiscuous when it comes to professing their love. In the United States, “I love you” is at once exalted and devalued. It can mean everything ... or nothing at all. This is not universally the case.
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
The drug modafinil was recently found to enhance cognition in healthy people. Should you take it to get a raise?
If you could take a pill that will make you better at your job, with few or no negative consequences, would you do it?
In a meta-analysis recently published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School concluded that a drug called modafinil, which is typically used to treat sleep disorders, is a cognitive enhancer. Essentially, it can help normal people think better.
Out of all cognitive processes, modafinil was found to improve decision-making and planning the most in the 24 studies the authors reviewed. Some of the studies also showed gains in flexible thinking, combining information, or coping with novelty. The drug didn’t seem to influence creativity either way.
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.
— Deuteronomy 15: 12–15
Besides the crime which consists in violating the law, and varying from the right rule of reason, whereby a man so far becomes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the principles of human nature, and to be a noxious creature, there is commonly injury done to some person or other, and some other man receives damage by his transgression: in which case he who hath received any damage, has, besides the right of punishment common to him with other men, a particular right to seek reparation.
African American parents are increasingly taking their kids' education into their own hands—and in many cases, it's to protect them from institutional racism and stereotyping.
Marvell Robinson was in kindergarten when a classmate reportedly poured an anthill on him at the playground. After that, the gibes reportedly became sharper: "Why are you that color?" one boy taunted at the swing set, leaving Marvell scared and speechless. The slow build of racial bullying would push his mother, Vanessa Robinson, to pull him from his public school and homeschool him instead.
Marvell is one of an estimated 220,000 African American children currently being homeschooled, according to the National Home Education Research Institute. Black families have become one of the fastest-growing demographics in homeschooling, with black students making up an estimated 10 percent of the homeschooling population. (For comparison’s sake, they make up 16 percent of all public-school students nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.)