Tag Archives: Labor Force

Counterpoint to Friedman’s Assessment of PISA

Thomas Friedman, in the New York Times, has noted that the United States continues to trail other countries on the PISA assessment of student learning in primary and secondary school.

One important note on the PISA tests, and other international benchmarks of student learning, is that the United States has  never led the globe in student achievement — it has always been about where it is today, sitting around 15th place internationally, yet we have the largest GDP and most productive workforce. This suggests that educational achievement is the only factor in productivity and employment.  As Friedman notes, this is partly due to the fact that we once had an economy rich in manufacturing — which required less skill in the workforce. Some believe the preference toward education and skill is overstated though.   Harry Holzer and labor economists have shown that there is still, and will continue to be, a significant middle skill job sector in America.  What they find is that these middle jobs will require some postsecondary training — in programs that may only be a few weeks or months at venues like community colleges.

Most American workers (about 70 percent currently) do not work in jobs that require a college degree (nor does 70 percent of the population hold the degree).  Even as the country becomes more “high tech” and more “new economy” only 40 percent of workers (in the highest of estimates) will need a college degree.  The major gap in learning is for workers who will need “some” postsecondary training, but not a degree.  Our educational system doesn’t address the educational needs for future non-degree holding workers as well as it does for those continuing to a four year college.

Friedman is also correct that students who do best on PISA tests feel some ownership over their education.  America could build more student “ownership” over education by providing more than one track of learning.  This could happen by building out a significant career and technical training program in America’s schools.  The Harvard Graduate School of Education makes a similar argument in its important Pathways to Prosperity report.

 

Encouraging Jobs Report

The recent jobs report shows that unemployment is down to 7.0 percent and that the economy grew by 203K jobs.  The most encouraging part of the report is that unemployment was down because of increased hiring, not because the labor force shrunk.  More people who wanted work had it rather than people giving up on finding work.  455K people joined the workforce in November.

203K jobs is steady (if not grand) improvement in hiring.  The Washington Post suggests that this report shows that the government shut down had little effect on the economy and that the Federal Reserve could consider pulling back its bond buying program to support economic recovery.  They also suggest that holiday sales will be 3 percent higher than last year – another sign of recovery.

DC’s Mayor Gray Vetos Living-Wage Law — Setting up City Council Vote to Override

Vincent Gray has vetoed a living wage bill in Washington DC that would require stores with corporate sales over $1 billion dollars that operated large footprint stores (75,000 square feet or more) to pay a super-minimum wage of $12.50.

The bill was targeted largely at a set of new Wal-Marts that were planned to be built in the city. Proponents wanted to ensure that workers were paid a fair wage.  Opponents worried that the law would limit grocery store access and jobs (even low wage jobs) for people who need them.  Wal-Mart has threatened to cancel the locations if the bill passes.  Some feel that the threat is hollow because the store wants to access the dense population in the city.  The City Council can override Gray’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote in favor of the bill.

As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich once questioned, are we limited to a future of high wages and high unemployment (as in Europe) or low wages and low unemployment?  Hopefully we can create and plan a future with high wages and low unemployment.

How Long Will It Take To Get to 6.5% Unemployment – Brookings Investigates

The Brookings Institute examined how long it will take to return to 6.5% unemployment recently.  The level is important because the Federal Reserve set it as the benchmark rate at which it would begin to increase interest rates again.  This matters for anyone thinking about starting a business, buying a home, or borrowing money.  They conclude that even under the most optimistic of scenarios, we won’t hit 6.5% until early 2014, but it could be as long as 2018 if we continue sluggish job growth.  Read the report for a deeper look and an interactive tool!