Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues

2 May 2014 Notes

Today’s starting point for our random topic walk was jobs. Here is Scott’s original post announcing the topic.

My favorite line from the meeting was Shovels or pitchforks” I think due to Charles.

Out of print  NBER report ” Output, Employment, and Productivity in the United States after 1800”  Lots of interesting detail in the table below. Among other factoids:  growth in the number of slaves prior to the Civil War. Decline of agriculture in percentage terms over the entire period, and ultimately in absolute terms.

Labor Force and Employment  1800 1960

FRED time series on Agricultural employment from 1970 to 2012. This is was discontinued after flat-lining at 1.5% for several years.

Humans Need Not Apply“, YouTube video by CGP Grey (Wikipedia article with links to some resources). Highly recommended.

From the transcript:

This is an economic revolution. You may think we’ve been here before, but we haven’t.

This time is different.

Jobs and the Great Depression and whence came the recovery to fuller employment: this paper explains structural employment following the depression. How the recovery stalled (and crashed) because FDR was pushed to balance the budget; how the recovery recovered when the US no longer had to balance the budget because — war. How experienced people who were long-term unemployed were unable to get jobs until enough inexperienced people were pulled into the military and out of the workforce and deficit spending created jobs. The paper points out that  the economic dynamics led to the Work Product Administration becoming, instead of a route back to the workforce, the kiss of death.

Perception of reality changes when you have data — like from the St Louis Fed (Federal Reserve Economic Data = FRED) . Some people say: the unemployment rate is down. Yay!!!!. Others say: the labor force participation rate is at an all time low. Boo!!!

Interesting what you can find when you dig into the data. The rate for men, steadily declining since about 1955. The rate for women increasing from about that time until around 2000, where it flattens.

BLS Labor force participation rates breakdowns.

Engineering graduates in China from  (2007)

Jobs plans: sound bites from Donald Trump on jobs from “On the issues.” And Hillary Clinton, here.

Donald Trump web site positions. Hillary Clinton, web site issues.

Analysis of health care “excess spending.” Part 1 is here. Part 2, here.

Health care professional costs. Raw data, here.

Teacher pay, advocacy from the NEA.

Link to the article on “Where did the government jobs go” from NY Times, recommended by Marion.

Guaranteed Income and Choose Your Boss.”  The author is Morgan Wrastler.  I believe that’s an alias. The post is from 2013. The idea is interesting and worth more serious thought.



  • Mike is right–I do like the Guaranteed Income piece.

    Mike is wrong–the labor participation rate for women has not “flattened” since 2000, it has declined. A lot. (Participation by men does appear to be on a steady trajectory of decline.) Is the “social safety net” a cause? Why are a lesser proportion of working-age Americans not working?

  • Since Mike posted (and noted) the “advocacy” piece about teacher pay, I thought I’d post links to the other side. (I found these articles while looking for a time series about real wages for teachers–still no luck unless I want to do the work myself.)

    I didn’t post them earlier because I recognize that they’re likely slanted the other way but, if the NEA gets a platform, why shouldn’t the Hoover Institution at Stanford University?

    The closest I came to a “pre-packaged” time series from a neutral source is the following from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It shows, among other things, that everyone’s real pay has pretty much stagnated. And that teachers are underpaid relative to their educational achievement (I think without taking into account non-wage benefits). And that male teachers give up a lot more in terms of pay opportunity than female teachers (controversy alert!):

  • Having been a teacher for almost all of my working life, I have long been interested in the topic of pay for educators.

    Thirty years ago and back, I would have said that teachers are vastly underpaid for the time and effort that most of them devote to their work.

    Today, I still feel that teachers are underpaid, but one must figure in the change over the last few decades in who is teaching and how they have been trained.

    When I first taught, quite a few teachers had master’s degrees in a specific subject area. At the least, they had bachelor’s degrees in the subjects they taught. We would be given the title of a course–say American History–and we would be free to develop a plan that we felt would work, and we ordered the books. The plans we made for a particular class were not graven in stone; we were free to continuously alter our methods to best suit our students. And it was okay to order an extra book or two.

    Also, in my first years, teaching drew many applicants who were imaginative, self-sufficient, and loved trying to engage the young in ideas and possibilities.

    As years rolled by with continuing poor pay, the pool of well-skilled and imaginative applicants dropped. Schools were forced to deal with diminishing resources when hiring. Accordingly, hiring standards dropped.

    Today, the teacher with a masters degree in his or her specific classroom subject is increasingly uncommon. In fact, there are many teachers whose degree is in something like The Teaching of Math, rather than Math itself. Also, as teachers have fewer skills in their area of supposed expertise, the exploration of topics is less deep, less inventive. What and how to teach are increasingly dictated by the state and federal governments. The days of teacher autonomy are over. Gone are the days when a teacher worked with his own school and, perhaps most importantly, local parents.

    Increasingly, our children are being taught not by teachers being fully teachers, but rather by people who are really a kind of Ed Tech. Understandably, Ed Techs are not going to be carrying out Imaginative exercises. In fact, with increasingky rigid curricula, they are discouraged from doing so.

    Are these Ed Techs, as opposed to traditionally-defined teachers, deserving of better pay? Yes. But I don’t feel as strongly about large raises as I once did.

    The U.S. needs to change profoundly the preparation of teachers, so that students are better served by more thorough, substantive explorations of subjects.The requirements to become a teacher should be considerably heightened, as they have been in the oft-mentioned-but-seldom-imitated Scandanavian countries.

    It should be much harder to become a full-fledged teacher. Then, teachers would be more effective and respected. And they would definitely need to be paid very well.

    I am not holding my breath. But, meanwhile, the quality of our educational system keeps falling. Disturbing.

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