Friday, March 4, 2011

Economy's improvement in eye of beholder

The friendly folks at the state Labor Department sent a letter my way that offers this encouraging assessment: that I have been unemployed for so long (nearly, gulp, 20 months) that "your prospects for finding work in your customary occupation are classified as 'not good'." (Sigh!)

The boldface, which is theirs, then continues to inform me that I now must look for suitable work, which is defined as anything else I could do using the skills from my former occupation or anything else at all that I could do no matter my training or lack of training, as long as whatever comes up in the crap shoot pays "at least 80 percent of your high quarter base period wages."

I vaguely recall that language from somewhere deep in my then-new unemployment insurance booklet, which I dutifully read eons ago. At the time, of course, I knew that it never would apply to ME, since I was a well-educated careerist who had climbed the ranks in my profession and would land in a new job tout de suite.

But -- oops! -- it was indeed meant for me.

So you'll understand the agita that resulted today from a couple of news snippets I caught:

  1. The monthly jobs report;
  2. A discussion of corporate profits.
The U.S. Labor Department this morning reported an improved employment picture in February, with the nonfarm payroll number up (+192,000) and the unemployment rate down (8.9%). According to the New York Times, the recovery is gaining traction, even if the 64.2 percent of working-age adults in a job or looking for one "is the lowest labor force participation rate in 25 years, an indication that many Americans are waiting for hiring to get better before resuming the job hunt."

Then there was this piece of an interview I caught this morning on CNBC with former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. If you skip to about 4:03, you'll hear an exchange between Greenspan and Steve Liesman, the network's senior economics reporter:

"Corporations are as profitable as they've ever been," says Liesman showing a chart indicating after-tax corporate profits as a percentage of gross domestic purchases. "How bad can business conditions really be, given how much corporations are earning these days?" he asks Greenspan.

The former chairman offers a long, considered, Greenspan-esque response, but then adds: "I grant you your point ... there's no question that profits are doing exceptionally well."

"But," he goes on, "you can still have very considerable profitability and not be willing to invest it in illiquid assets."  Um, like what, new workers?

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