A hallmark of the U.S. economy’s
record expansion has been steady growth in employment. Judging from the
jobless rate, in fact, the labor market is the best it’s been in half
a century. But what is missing in the focus on the numbers is a severe and
troubling deterioration in the quality of jobs created.
A close look at labor trends in recent decades
reveals that while the U.S. jobs market has expanded, the caliber of
the positions created in the largest chunk of the workforce has steadily
and significantly declined, leaving Americans working fewer hours on
average, and in lower-paying positions. These changes to what we call
job quality as distinguished from quantity — which largely
align with the growth in the service economy at the expense of manufacturing
— account for much that now ails the American economy and, as a
consequence, society more broadly.
The most prominent change to the U.S. private sector job
situation in recent decades is the dramatic loss of goods-producing jobs –
something that most Americans are at least intuitively aware of. Back in the
1960s, 42% of private-sector production and
non-supervisory jobs (the largest part of the labor market) involved
manufacturing, construction, or mining and logging – in short, making things. Today,
that figure stands at a mere 17% of these P&NS positions.
Increasingly, a greater share of job gains
are occurring within the lowest quality job subsectors – in
particular retail, leisure and hospitality, administrative, waste management,
and health-care and social assistance services. While not all the
positions in these subsectors are low quality, both the average
job and the vast majority of the positions in these subsectors offer
less than the mean weekly income of all U.S. P&NS jobs. In fact, the
percentage of P&NS jobs created in just these four subsectors corresponds
almost exactly to the percentage of goods-producing jobs lost in America from
1990 through today. We have, in other words, replaced most of our highest
quality jobs not merely with lower quality jobs, but with lowest quality jobs.
One particularly telling comparison is emblematic of
the change: In 1990, with 80 million fewer people than today, the U.S. had 12.7
million manufacturing jobs (not including construction and natural resources)
and 5.9 million jobs in eating and drinking establishments. Today, with a
population one-third larger than in 1990, the country has only 9 million
manufacturing jobs and 10.7 million jobs preparing and serving food and
beverages. The average weekly income yielded by these jobs is $373, compared to
$922 for manufacturing.
Taken together, the large and still growing number of
low-quality jobs offer an average of only 30 hours of work a week, while
the dwindling number of high-quality jobs offer an average of 38.3 hours of
work per week. It is worth thinking about what this implies in the aggregate:
Were all current low-quality jobs offering the same number of hours per
week as high-quality jobs, it would be the equivalent of creating 12.6 million
new jobs (11% of the existing P&NS jobs base).
In other words, headline unemployment might be low,
but effective under-employment of Americans, measured by the quality of their
jobs in the private sector, is rampant and still worsening. U.S. labor is in
this sense being devalued via systemic underutilization. And, unsurprisingly, this
devaluation has fallen hardest on the holders of low-quality jobs – now the
majority cohort. If you wonder where flagging effective demand, growing
private-sector debt, and still worsening inequality and populist outrage are coming
from, you need look no further.
This underutilization is showing up in increasing
income inequality. In earlier periods, incomes of the low- and high-quality
cohorts grew at roughly the same rate, however disparate their levels
relative to each other. But beginning around 2003, the growth in income of the
ever-smaller high-quality cohort took off and is currently still accelerating
relative to incomes from lower quality jobs. Even with hourly wages in the
lower-quality sectors recently showing some welcome signs of life relative to
those in high-quality sectors, the increasing number of low-quality jobs with
limited hours is a big drag, which shows up in our job quality index.
What led us here? Globalization and outsourcing of
manufactured goods is certainly one culprit. But our decades-long curtailment
of federal spending on repairing and building new domestic infrastructure, with
all the well-paying construction and materials manufacturing jobs that such
spending entails – certainly hasn’t helped. Whatever the causes, they should
concern us all. When workers are denied access to real full-time employment,
they find themselves direly deprived even of basic security, let alone dignity.
Money is so cheap — a 20-year mortgage can be had in
Paris or Frankfurt at a rate of less than 1% — that borrowers are flocking to
buy apartments and houses. And institutional investors, seeing a chance for
lucrative returns, are acquiring swaths of residential real estate in cities
In some parts of Europe, said Jörg Krämer, the chief
economist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt, valuations have already returned to or
exceeded levels that preceded the Continent’s debt crisis a decade ago,
igniting concerns that the property boom could end badly.
“The risks are real, because negative interest rates
in Europe are cemented,” Mr. Krämer said. “What’s important for the economy as
a whole is to prevent the emergence of a dangerous new bubble.”
Demand has surged in the five years since the
European Central Bank pushed one of its benchmark interest rates below
zero, a step never before tried on such a scale. Prices jumped at least 30% in
Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Madrid and other metropolitan hot spots, and
are up an average of over 40% in Portugal, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Ireland.
While low rates helped produce a rebound in the
eurozone, economists say the policies now appear to be doing more harm than
good, clouding the bank’s efforts to reverse inequality. They have not resolved
fundamental problems like weak business investment. Nor have they revived
inflation — which helps lift wages — anywhere but in the housing market.
The Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, said recently
that real estate in German cities had been overvalued by 15 to 30% —
in other words, that there is a bubble. The UBS survey cited Munich, Frankfurt,
Amsterdam and Paris as cities at risk. And a study by the global
accounting firm Deloitte & Touche cautioned that average house prices “will
exceed pre-crisis levels” if the European Central Bank keeps interest rates at
zero, as planned.
Housing prices have risen sharply in the United
States as well. But there, the boom has been driven by individual buyers,
household debt has been held in check and lending standards have remained
relatively tight — all factors that reduce the chance of another collapse.
Moreover, while benchmark interest rates in the United States have been kept
low, they were never negative — and have now been above zero for several years.
The scarcity of affordable housing is fueling
resentment and political strife. In Madrid and Barcelona, home prices
have jumped more than 30% since 2016, pushing rents up as landlords
sought bigger returns. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez capped rents in Spain this
summer at the rate of inflation, now 0.4%, limiting income for property owners.
In Paris, where 70% of residents are renters, Mayor
Anne Hidalgo imposed new rent controls. While rents are limited by strict
housing regulations, they have risen 40% between 2000 and 2018. As property
prices keep climbing — they recently broke a record of 10,000 euros on average
per square meter, or about $1,000 per square foot, one of the highest prices in
Europe — Ms. Hidalgo is taking other steps to prevent the city from becoming a
“ghetto for the rich.” Her plans include building subsidized housing that
families with modest incomes can purchase at half the market rate.
Few places have felt the impact as sharply as Berlin.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, workers, artists and students
have increasingly been displaced by an influx of young professionals with
families. But property prices and rents have skyrocketed in recent years as
home buyers and investors double down.
The city imposed a five-year rent freeze, the
toughest in Europe, in the summer after rents jumped more than 50% in five
years, and gave tenants the right to demand reductions if rents go too high.
German real estate stocks have slumped since the ruling.
In Denmark, which is not part of the euro but closely
tracks E.C.B. monetary policy, benchmark interest rates have been negative for
seven years. Seeking greater returns, some Danish pension funds are buying
large holdings of prime real estate and new buildings to offer for rent. But
rents have grown so high that the city is considering capping them, which could
cut into those investments.
At the same time, rates are so low that bargains
being offered by banks are hard to pass up. In August, Jyske Bank of Denmark
began offering 10-year fixed-rate mortgages at negative 0.5% interest
before fees, meaning the amount outstanding on the loan will be reduced each
month by more than the borrower has paid. Nordea Bank is offering 20-year
loans at zero interest.
Ranchers and government officials here are keeping
watch on an enemy army gathering to the north, along the border with Canada.
The invaders are big, testy, tenacious — and they’ll eat absolutely anything.
Feral pigs are widely considered to be the most
destructive invasive species in the United States. They can do remarkable
damage to the ecosystem, wrecking crops and hunting animals like birds and
amphibians to near extinction.
Wild pigs occupy the “largest global
range of any nondomesticated terrestrial mammal on earth,” researchers in
Canada recently concluded. They have roamed parts of North
America for centuries.
But in recent decades, the pigs have been expanding
their range — or more accurately, people have been expanding it for them.
“It’s not natural dispersion,” Dr. Nolte said. “We
have every reason to believe they are being moved in the backs of pickup trucks
and released to create hunting opportunities.”
In the United States, their stronghold is the South —
about half of the nation’s six million feral pigs live in Texas. But in the
past 30 years, the hogs have expanded their range to 38 states from 17.
Why the worry? The harm caused by snuffling, gobbling
wild hogs is the stuff of legend. The damage in the United States is estimated
to be $1.5 billion annually, but likely closer to $2.5 billion, Dr. Nolte said.
“Nature’s rototillers,” experts have said. Feral pigs
don’t browse the landscape; they dig out plants by the root, and lots of them.
Big hogs can chew up acres of crops in a single night, destroying pastures,
tearing out fences, digging up irrigation systems, polluting water supplies.
“Pigs will literally eat anything,” said Dr. Ryan
Brook, a professor of animal science at the University of Saskatchewan in
“They eat ground-nesting birds — eggs and young and
adults,” Dr. Brook said. “They eat frogs. They eat salamanders. They are huge
on insect larvae. I’ve heard of them taking adult white-tailed deer.”
A recent study found that mammal and
bird communities are 26% less
diverse in forests
where feral pigs are present.
Feral swine have caused extensive damage to cultural
and historical sites. The invaders cause $36 million a year in damage to
“Hitting a two- or three-hundred-pound
pig on a highway is not that much different than hitting a two- or
three-hundred-pound rock,” Dr. Nolte said. Two F-16 fighter jets have
crashed after they hit pigs on the
The swine are also reservoirs for at least 32
diseases, including bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis and leptospirosis.
Outbreaks of E. coli in spinach and lettuce have been blamed on feral hogs
defecating in farm fields.
In the United States, pig hunting is a popular sport,
but biologists caution that it is not always the solution to the nation’s feral
In states where populations are not established,
hunting creates an incentive for people to distribute feral pigs for sport.
Hunting makes the animals warier and scatters sounders, or family groups, which
go on to multiply in new family groups.
But where pigs are already well established, hunting
can reduce their numbers. Gunning feral pigs from helicopters with
semiautomatic weapons is a popular sport in Texas. (There are no hunting
seasons for feral swine in the state; the animals, which cause $400 million in
crop damage in the state annually, can be shot year round.)
Alan Crawford does a
bang up job of identifying various hot spots of unrest around the globe that
led to political change. Does not include other areas of unrest, i.e. Xianjiang
and Jammu and Kashmir.
Economies on the verge of collapse, a yearning for
greater democracy, revulsion against corruption and inequality–the grievances
that drove people into the streets in 2019 were consistent across continents.
Some marched peacefully, others clashed violently with security forces, and in
at least five places the unrest helped topple government leaders.
Below is a breakdown of protests around the world, by
region, and the main reasons behind them.
A defining movement of 2019 was the
worldwide push for more urgent government action against what scientists and
activists call a climate emergency. Demonstrations took place around the globe, many inspired by the 2018 school strikes started by
Swedish teenagerGreta Thunberg.