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.
For some, meditation has become more curse than cure. Willoughby Britton wants to know why.
Set back on quiet College Hill in Providence, Rhode Island, sits a dignified, four story, 19th-century house that belongs to Dr. Willoughby Britton. Inside, it is warm, spacious, and organized. The shelves are stocked with organic foods. A solid wood dining room table seats up to 12. Plants are ubiquitous. Comfortable pillows are never far from reach. The basement—with its own bed, living space, and private bathroom—often hosts a rotating cast of yogis and meditation teachers. Britton’s own living space and office are on the second floor. The real sanctuary, however, is on the third floor, where people come from all over to rent rooms, work with Britton, and rest. But they're not there to restore themselves with meditation—they're recovering from it.
How a strange face in a random 19th-century newspaper ad became a portal to a forgotten moment in ASCII art history
One of the joys of modern technology is how easy it is to immerse yourself in the past. Every day, more libraries and archives are pushing pieces of their collections online in easily browsable interfaces.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “The Door,” the fifth episode of the sixth season.
Every week for the sixth season of Game of Thrones, Christopher Orr, Spencer Kornhaber, and Lenika Cruz will be discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners are being made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.
Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”
Why aren’t the critics comparing Donald Trump to a fascist acknowledging that the office he seeks is too powerful?
Wake up, establishment centrists: Donald Trump is coming!
After the Vietnam War and Watergate and the spying scandals uncovered by the Church Committee and the Nixon Administration cronies who nearly firebombed the Brookings Institution, Americans were briefly inclined to rein in executive power—a rebuke to Richard Nixon’s claim that “if the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Powerful committees were created to oversee misconduct-prone spy agencies. The War Powers Resolution revived a legislative check on warmaking. “In 34 years,” Vice President Dick Cheney would lament to ABC News in a January 2002 interview, “I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job. I feel an obligation... to pass on our offices in better shape than we found them to our successors."
Her patchy Billboard Awards performance is drawing the inevitable flak, but fortunately other artists will get their chances to pay homage.
What’s a tribute, anyway? Sunday night’s Billboard Music Awards, the most soul-crushingly cynical of the soul-crushingly cynical music-awards shows, encouraged viewers to take an expansive definition of the word. Britney Spears’s opening set, where she determinedly walked through a medley of her hits and deep cuts, felt like nothing so much as a tribute to her past relevance. Kesha’s powerful version of “It Ain’t Me Babe” was less an homage to Bob Dylan than to her times as a more carefree pop star. Celine Dion doing Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” was an act of personal, public mourning.
But the most divisive performance of the night was the only memorial that was really billed as such—Madonna’s pitchy but pious rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Purple Rain” with Stevie Wonder. The performance was, at its most basic level, a tribute to Prince, but like so much of the evening it felt like a statement of futility: Something’s gone forever, and the only, imperfect thing to do is sing about it.
Many animated series in the U.S. are hand-drawn in South Korea, but the country’s recent transition to digital tools could spur a transformation in American television.
Animated sitcoms have long offered sharp insight into American culture. The Simpsons is so astute that, 16 years ago, the show predicted Donald Trump’s run for president. A running joke on Bob’s Burgers revolves around the “Burger of the Day,” with past entries including the “Sweet Home Avocado Burger” and “Mission A-Corn-Plished Burger.” The Boondocks follows a black family as they adjust to life in a mostly white suburb. Family Guy—a subversive spin on a family with 2.5 children and a dog living in Rhode Island—has lampooned everything from the legalization of marijuana to summer camp.
Although these primetime series appear as American as apple pie, and are conceptualized and written in the U.S., the bulk of their animation is done in South Korea. Animation requires 12 frames for every second of airtime. Korean studios take the voice recordings and the storyboards, and their artists draw out each frame—on paper. They start with characters’ key poses, then do the “in-betweening,” or the painstaking process of crafting incremental micro-movements so the motion looks smooth. Korean animators can draw 240 pages for a single 20-second scene, and around 7,000 drawings per half-hour episode.
The refugee crisis in the Dominican Republic and Haiti shows the human consequences of extreme anti-immigration policies—and how voters get used to them.
An unprecedented refugee crisis, economic inequality, and fears of terrorism are helping stoke the rise of extreme anti-immigrant politicians across Europe and the United States. Hungary’s Viktor Orban, France’s Marine Le Pen, Austria’s Norbert Hofer, and yes, Donald Trump, are riding a much-remarkedsurge in popular support, with Hofer just losing his presidential bid by a razor-thin margin. All have embraced extreme nativist rhetoric, but meanwhile a different nationalist experiment is already running its course, and uprooting thousands on the basis of their ancestry, under a leader who is by most accounts a moderate technocrat. And the Dominican Republic’s President Danilo Medina just claimed a landslide reelection victory.