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?
A CFPB investigation concluded that Transunion and Equifax deceived Americans about the reports they provided and the fees they charged.
In personal finance, practically everything can turn on one’s credit score. It’s both an indicator of one’s financial past, and the key to accessing necessities—without insane costs—in the future. But on Tuesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that two of the three major credit-reporting agencies responsible for doling out those scores—Equifax and Transunion—have been deceiving and taking advantage of Americans. The Bureau ordered the agencies to pay more than $23 million in fines and restitution.
In their investigation, the Bureau found that the two agencies had been misrepresenting the scores provided to consumers, telling them that the score reports they received were the same reports that lenders and businesses received, when, in fact, they were not. The investigation also found problems with the way the agencies advertised their products, using promotions that suggested that their credit reports were either free or cost only $1. According to the CFPB the agencies did not properly disclose that after a trial of seven to 30 days, individuals would be enrolled in a full-price subscription, which could total $16 or more per month. The Bureau also found Equifax to be in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which states that the agencies must provide one free report every 12 months made available at a central site. Before viewing their free report, consumers were forced to view advertisements for Equifax, which is prohibited by law.
The MIT economist Peter Temin argues that economic inequality results in two distinct classes. And only one of them has any power.
A lot of factors have contributed to American inequality: slavery, economic policy, technological change, the power of lobbying, globalization, and so on. In their wake, what’s left?
That’s the question at the heart of a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin, an economist from MIT. Temin argues that, following decades of growing inequality, America is now left with what is more or less a two-class system: One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.
American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth.
As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”
The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.
In 1985, Neil Postman observed an America imprisoned by its own need for amusement. He was, it turns out, extremely prescient.
Earlier this month, thousands of protesters gathered at Washington’s National Mall to advocate for an assortment of causes: action against global climate change, federal funding for scientific research, a generally empirical approach to the world and its mysteries. The protesters at the March for Science, as scientists are wont to do, followed what has become one of the established formulas for such an event, holding clever signs, wearing cheeky outfits, and attempting, overall, to carnivalize their anger. “Make the Barrier Reef Great Again,” read one sign at the March. “This is my sine,” read another. “I KNEW TO WEAR THIS,” one woman had written on the poncho she wore that soggy Saturday, “BECAUSE SCIENCE PREDICTED THE RAIN.” Three protesters, sporting sensible footwear and matching Tyrannosaurus rex costumes, waved poster boards bearing messages like “Jurassick of this shit.”
The party appears to be struggling to convince the public it represents a better alternative to President Trump and the GOP.
If Democrats want to regain the power they’ve lost at the state and federal level in recent years, they will have to convince more voters they can offer solutions to their problems.
That may be especially difficult, however, if voters think the party and its representatives in government don’t understand or care about them. And according to a recently released poll, many voters may, in fact, feel that way. The Washington Post-ABC News survey, released this week, found that a majority of the public thinks the Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of average Americans in the United States. More Americans think Democrats are out of touch than believe the same of the Republican Party or President Trump.
From joy and attachment to anxiety and protectiveness, mothering behavior begins with biochemical reactions.
The artist Sarah Walker once told me that becoming a mother is like discovering the existence of a strange new room in the house where you already live. I always liked Walker's description because it’s more precise than the shorthand most people use for life with a newborn: Everything changes.
Because a lot of things do change, of course, but for new mothers, some of the starkest differences are also the most intimate ones—the emotional changes. Which, it turns out, are also largely neurological.
Even before a woman gives birth, pregnancy tinkers with the very structure of her brain, several neurologists told me. After centuries of observing behavioral changes in new mothers, scientists are only recently beginning to definitively link the way a woman acts with what's happening in her prefrontal cortex, midbrain, parietal lobes, and elsewhere. Gray matter becomes more concentrated. Activity increases in regions that control empathy, anxiety, and social interaction. On the most basic level, these changes, prompted by a flood of hormones during pregnancy and in the postpartum period, help attract a new mother to her baby. In other words, those maternal feelings of overwhelming love, fierce protectiveness, and constant worry begin with reactions in the brain.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
A new documentary explores how early experiences drive development.
The idea that new babies are empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge of the world around them doesn’t sound unreasonable. With their unfocused eyes and wrinkly skin, tiny humans sometimes look more like amoebas than complex beings.
Yet scientists have built a body of evidence, particularly over the last three decades, that suggests this is patently untrue. “When kids are born, they’re already little scientists exploring the world,” said the filmmaker Estela Renner via a video conference from Brazil before a recent screening of her new documentary The Beginning of Life (streaming on Netflix) at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.
That’s something Renner, a Brazilian mother of three, discovered as she spoke with early-childhood experts and parents in nine countries around the world about the impact a child’s environment in the first few years of life has on not only her physical development, but her cognitive, social, and emotional development, too. “I didn’t know that kids were not blank slates,” she said. “It changed the way I look at babies.” If more people recognized that fact, the way communities and policymakers think about and invest in the early years of life might be different.
There’s a common perception that women siphon off the wealth of their exes and go on to live in comfort. It’s wrong.
A 38-year-old woman living in Everett, Washington recently told me that nine years ago, she had a well-paying job, immaculate credit, substantial savings, and a happy marriage. When her first daughter was born, she and her husband decided that she would quit her job in publishing to stay home with the baby. She loved being a mother and homemaker, and when another daughter came, she gave up the idea of going back to work.
Seven years later, her husband told her to leave their house, and filed for a divorce she couldn’t afford. “He said he was tired of my medical issues, and unwilling to work on things,” she said, citing her severe rheumatoid arthritis and OCD, both of which she manages with medication. “He kicked me out of my own house, with no job and no home, and then my only recourse was to lawyer up. I’m paying them on credit.” (Some of the men and women quoted in this article have been kept anonymous because they were discussing sensitive financial matters, some of them involving ongoing legal disputes.)
It would have been a breakthrough for Macedonia—a government finally in place after two years of political crisis—if it hadn’t turned bloody.
On Thursday, Zoran Zaev’s Social Democrats (SDSM)announced that Talat Xhaferi had been elected speaker of parliament, paving the way for a coalition between his party and parties representing ethnic Albanians, who comprise between one-quarter and one-third of Macedonia’s population, to form a government. (No one knows the exact proportion because there has been no census since 2002, as the parties cannot agree to hold one.)For the last 15 years, ethnic-Albanian parties have been represented in every government, but the conservative-nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) has tried to portray Zaev’s coalition as a vehicle for a coup and eventual takeover of Macedonia by ethnic Albanians, who have higher birth rates than ethnic Macedonians.*