The Most Important Economic Stories of 2013—in 44 Graphs

The top four occupations and three of the bottom four have increased their share of employment at the relative expense of the middle three. Numerous potential reasons have been offered for this change in the employment landscape—the particular nature and pace of recent technological advancement, globalization, the global savings glut and corresponding investment dearth, the incentive structure of corporations, policy deficiencies, or "merely" cyclical causes—but there is no consensus on this hugely important issue.

Jim Tankersley, Washington Post: As I wrote back in November, job insecurities have always been higher among low-income Americans, but they typically rose and fell across all levels of the income ladder. Today, workers at the bottom have drifted away, occupying their own island of in­security.

Adam Ozimek, Modeled Behavior: This is a useful reminder that there really is a remarkably strong consensus among economists that high-skilled immigration is beneficial to the average U.S. citizen, and the recent attempts to disprove a skills shortage are really beside the point. Of course a quota induces a shortage relative to what the market demands; what matters is that economists overwhelmingly agree this particular shortage is reducing welfare for the average U.S. citizen.

Brad DeLong, Center for Equitable Growth and professor at the University of California-Berkeley: As Jared Bernstein has written, "I've always thought the key test of the claim that lots of people were abusing the DI rolls when they could be working is the extent to which the DI rolls are countercyclical, meaning they go up when the economy goes down. What Kathy finds is applications [do line] up roughly with unemployment. But awards less so [unless you] squint."

Matt O'BrienThe Atlantic: It's been over four years since the recovery officially began, but there are still just under three unemployed people for every job opening today. That's a big improvement from where we were after Lehmangeddon, but it's still about as bad as things were after the tech crash.

Evan Soltas, Washington Post, Bloomberg View: This map from Raj Chetty's recent work shows which regions have better and worse intergenerational mobility (lighter is better and darker is worse). As I've said before, I know intergenerational inequality is a very uncomfortable subject for Americans. But we need to talk about it more. Only when we recognize that the Dream is largely hollow can we begin to do something about it. Progressive taxation is no substitute for real policies to address it.

Dylan Matthews, Wonkblog: This is a very simple chart but I think it does a very good job of showing how much nationalistic blinders affect how we think and write about the distribution of income and wealth. Consciously or not, many of us are stuck in a vulgar Marxist mindset where decisions within countries about how much each group gets are of crucial importance. The Occupy movement's "99 percent and the 1 percent" frame gets at this explicitly, but there's a broader tendency, of which I'm as guilty as anyone, to focus obsessively on whether a given policy is "progressive" or "regressive" intra-nationally. But while that really was the most important cleavage in 1870, it just isn't anymore. Talking about a transnational proletariat made sense then; a working class person was a working class person, whether they were in Prussia or France or wherever. But someone in the bottom quintile of China's income distribution does not have much in common with someone in the same position in America.

We need to shift our thinking, in World Bank economic Branko Milanovic's words, "from proletarians to migrants." The key issue going forward isn't how the income will be divvied up within rich countries. It's whether rich countries are going to continue using men with guns to keep would-be migrants impoverished in their home countries

Annie Lowrey, New York Times: This shows that short-term unemployment has returned to its pre-recession levels, but the number of long-term unemployed remains twice as high. I think it's the most powerful depiction I've seen of how the recovery has helped to normalize much of the labor force—but has left the long-term unemployed behind.

Catherine Rampell, economics reporter, The New York Times: The chart above is an updated version of one that Joshua Lehner, an economist at the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, posted last year. As you can see, job losses lasted much longer in the aftermath of the financial crises that hit, among others, Finland and Sweden in 1991 and Spain in 1977, as well as the United States during the Great Depression.

Michael Mandel, Progressive Policy Institute: The tech boom has opened up new opportunities for minorities. Over the past two year, the number of blacks working in computer and mathematical occupations has risen 28%, while the number of Hispanics working in computer and mathematical occupations has risen by 24%. That's more than double the 10% rise in overall tech employment.

Victoria McGrane, Wall Street Journal: We are in the fifth year of economic recovery since the Great Recession, yet Americans are still fleeing the labor force. That raises questions about just how healthy the labor market really is. The labor force participation rate—Americans who are working or actively looking for work—is 63%, near the lowest level in 35 years. November’s 7% unemployment rate was the lowest in five years, but the drop has been driven in part by the falling participation rate. Among other things, the labor-force-participation puzzle is complicating Fed officials’ efforts to judge the effectiveness of their stimulus programs as they eye the exit from their $85 billion-per-month bond-buying program. Remember when Ben Bernanke predicted in June that the jobless rate would be 7% when QE3 ended?

The Year in Banking: This Time Is Different. Really.

Presented by

Matthew O'Brien

Matthew O'Brien is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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