Monday, December 31, 2018

Labor Line

December 2018___________________________________

Labor line has job news and commentary with a one stop short cut for America's job markets and job related data including the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This month's job and employment summary data are below. This month's inflation data is below.

The Establishment Job Report and Establishment Job Details for data released December 7, 2018.

American Job Market The Chronicle

Current Job and Employment Data

Total Non-Farm Establishment Jobs up 155,000 to 149,893,000
Total Private Jobs up 261,000 to 127,515,000
Total Government Employment down 6,000 to 22,378,000

Employment Note
Civilian Non-Institutional Population up 194,000 to 258,708,000
Civilian Labor Force up 133,000 to 162,770,000
Employed up 233,000 to 156,795,000
Employed Men up 316,000 to 83,219,000
Employed Women down 83,000 to 73,576,000
Unemployed down 100,000 to 5,975,000
Not in the Labor Force up 60,000 to 95,937,000

Unemployment Rate stayed the same at 3.7% or 5,975/162,770
Labor Force Participation Rate stayed the same at 62.9%, or 162,770/258,708

Prices and inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all Urban Consumers was up by a monthly average of 2.13 percent for 2017.

The November CPI report for the 12 months ending with October, shows the

CPI for All Items was up 2.5%
CPI for Food and Beverages was up 1.2%
CPI for Housing was up 2.8%
CPI for Apparel was down .4%
CPI for Transportation including gasoline was up 5.4%
CPI for Medical Care was up 1.7%
CPI for Recreation was up .2%
CPI for Education was up 2.5%
CPI for Communication was down .4%

This Month's Establishment Jobs Press Report


The Bureau of Labor Statistics published its December report for jobs in November. The employed increased by 233 thousand as a result of a decrease in the unemployed of 100 thousand and the rest from new entrants to the labor force. Those not in the labor force went up as well, a modest 60 thousand. The announced unemployment rate remained at 3.7 percent, but actually it went down from 3.73 percent to 3.67 percent. Since the unemployed went down and the employed went up the rate had to fall, but rounded off to one decimal it remains at 3.7 percent. The labor force participation rate also stayed at 62.9 percent.

The seasonally adjusted total of establishment employment was up 155 thousand for November. The increase was 132 thousand more jobs in the private service sector combined with a 29 thousand increase in jobs from goods production. The total of 161 thousand more private sector jobs combined with a decrease of 6 thousand government service jobs accounts for the total increase.

The total goods production gain of 29 thousand jobs for November included a loss of 3 thousand natural resources jobs, mostly in activities in support of mining. Construction added a net of 5 thousand jobs with residential construction up by 7.1 thousand jobs offset with small job losses in other sub sectors. Manufacturing added 27 thousand new jobs, a little down from last month. Durable goods accounted for 15 thousand of the jobs with 12 thousand new jobs for non-durable goods, a more even balance than usual. Motor vehicle and parts manufacturing were down 800 jobs: a possible start of the recent layoff announcements. Among non-durable goods chemicals did the best adding 5.8 thousand jobs.

Government service employment was down a net 6 thousand jobs for November. The government job losses were confined to state government, down 13 thousand jobs. The federal government picked up 3 thousand jobs and local government another 3.6 thousand. Public education had a net loss of 600 jobs from a loss of 6.2 thousand state jobs in education offset by a gain of 5.6 thousand local education jobs. It was an off month of education in general: private education was also down 6.4 thousand jobs for a net loss in education of 7 thousand jobs.

Trade, transportation and utilities took first place among service sectors in November with 53 thousand new jobs. Wholesale trade had 9.5 thousand new jobs, retail added a net of 18.2 thousand more. In retail general merchandise stores had 39.3 thousand more jobs offset by significant retail losses in clothing and clothing accessories stores and electronics and appliance stores. Clothing stores dropped 14.1 thousand jobs.

Transportation and warehousing did well also with 25.4 thousand new jobs. Truck transportation added 4.5 thousand jobs, but gains came primarily in courier and messenger services and warehousing and storage services with a combined 16.1 thousand new jobs.

Health care had 40 thousand new jobs in November, a smaller increase than last month. Job gains came in all four sub sectors. The growth rate in health care employment this month was 2.40 percent, a little above the long-term trend of 2.32 percent. Ambulatory care added 19.2 thousand of the new jobs, up from last month and a bigger than usual gain. Hospital jobs added 12.7 thousand; nursing and residential care just 200 jobs. Social assistance added 8 thousand jobs for November, with 8.3 thousand job gains in individual and family services offset by other small job losses, including childcare services, down slightly.

Professional and business services had a modest job gain of 32 thousand for November, a little less than last month. The professional and technical service sub sector added 17.7 thousand of the jobs. Management of companies added another 800 while administration and support services including waste management added 14.2 thousand jobs.

Among professional and technical services, computer systems and related services added 7.6 thousand jobs, more than any of the last three months; architecture and engineering services added 5.7 thousand new jobs, less than last month while management and technical consulting services added 3.6 thousand jobs. The administrative and support services job gains were mostly 8.3 thousand new jobs in temporary help services.

Leisure and hospitality added a modest 15 thousand jobs for November. The arts, entertainment and recreation sub sector had a net increase of 1.1 thousand jobs with amusements, gambling and recreation up 3.9 thousand jobs offset by losses in performing arts and spectator sports. Restaurants had a modest gain of 14 thousand jobs, way down from last month. Accommodations that usually have small losses had a big loss of jobs in November, down 7.2 thousand jobs.

Information services lost 8 thousand jobs for November, eliminating last month's bigger than usual gain. Motion picture and sound recording lost 9.7 thousand jobs offset by other small gains. Financial activities also picked up a net 6 thousand jobs with 3.8 thousand jobs in finance and insurance and 2.2 thousand new jobs in real estate and rental services. In finance and insurance the credit intermediation - banking - sub sector dropped 6.3 thousand jobs offset by 6.3 thousand new jobs in securities and investment services and 3.9 thousand new jobs in insurance services. Personal and laundry services had no change in employment, which remained at 5.882 million jobs.

Establishment employment in November increased by 155 thousand to 149.893 million at a 1.24 percent annual growth rate, significantly down from last month. Good production keeps doing well while health care, trade and professional and business services did about normal. A so-so month in a still gyrating jobs picture, but no sign of recession on the jobs front.


November Details

Non Farm Total +155
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Non-Farm employment for establishments increased from October by 155 thousand jobs for a(n) November total of 149.893 million. (Note 1 below) An increase of 155 thousand each month for the next 12 months represents an annual growth rate of +1.24%. The annual growth rate from a year ago beginning November 2017 was +1.66%; the average annual growth rate from 5 years ago beginning November 2013 was +1.76%; from 15 years ago beginning November 2003 it was .93%. America needs growth around 1.5 percent a year to keep itself employed.


Sector breakdown for 12 Sectors in 000's of jobs

1. Natural Resources -3
Natural Resources jobs including logging and mining were down 3 thousand from October at 750 thousand jobs in November. A decrease of 3 thousand jobs each month for the next 12 months would be an annual growth rate of -4.78 percent. Natural resource jobs are up 53 thousand for the 12 months just ended. Jobs in the 1990's totaled around 770 thousand. Job growth here will be small compared to America's job needs. This is the smallest of 12 major sectors of the economy with .5 percent of establishment jobs.

2. Construction +5
Construction jobs were up 5 thousand from October with 7.312 million jobs in November. An increase of 5 thousand jobs each month for the next 12 months would be an annual growth rate of +.82 percent. Construction jobs are up 282 thousand for the 12 months just ended. The growth rate for the last 5 years is +4.19%. Construction jobs rank 9th among the 12 sectors with 4.9 percent of non-farm employment.

3. Manufacturing +27
Manufacturing jobs were up 27 thousand from October with 12.807 million jobs in November. An increase of 27 thousand jobs each month for the next 12 months would be an annual growth rate of +2.54 percent. Manufacturing jobs were up for the last 12 months by 288 thousand. The growth rate for the last 5 years is +1.18%; for the last 15 years by -.74%. In 1994, manufacturing ranked 2nd but now ranks 6th among 12 major sectors in the economy with 8.5 percent of establishment jobs.

4. Trade, Transportation & Utility +53
Trade, both wholesale and retail, transportation and utility employment was up 53 thousand from October at 27.909 million jobs in November. An increase of 53 thousand each month for the next 12 months would be an annual growth rate of +2.28 percent. Jobs are up by 307 thousand for the last 12 months. Growth rates for the last 5 years are +1.37 percent. Jobs in these sectors rank first as the biggest sectors with combined employment of 18.6 percent of total establishment employment.

5. Information Services -8
Information Services employment was down by 8 thousand from October at 2.759 million jobs in November. A decrease of 8 thousand each month for the next 12 months would be an annual growth rate of -3.47 percent. (Note 2 below) Jobs are down by 21 thousand for the last 12 months. Information jobs reached 3.7 million at the end of 2000, but started dropping, reaching 3 million by 2004, but has stayed in the 2.7 million range for a decade. Information Services is a small sector ranking 11th of 12 with 1.9 percent of establishment jobs.

6. Financial Activities +6
Financial Activities jobs were up 6 thousand from October at 8.622 million in November. An increase of 6 thousand each month for the next 12 months would be an annual growth rate of +.84 percent. Jobs are up 119 thousand for the last 12 months. (Note 3 below)This sector also includes real estate as well as real estate lending. Financial Services has been growing slowly with many months of negative growth. The long term growth rates are now at a 5 year growth rate of +1.74 percent, and a 15 year growth rate of +.43 percent. Financial activities rank 8 of 12 with 5.8 percent of establishment jobs.

7. Business & Professional Services +32
Business and Professional Service jobs went up 32 thousand from October to 21.207 million in November. An increase of 32 thousand each month for the next 12 months would be an annual growth rate of +1.81 percent. Jobs are up 561 thousand for the last 12 months. Note 4 The annual growth rate for the last 5 years was 2.52 percent. It ranks as 2nd among the 12 sectors now. It was third in May 1993, when manufacturing was bigger and second rank now with 14.1 percent of establishment employment.

8. Education including public and private -15
Education jobs went down 15 thousand jobs from October at 14.142 million in November. These include public and private education. An decrease of 15 thousand jobs each month for the next 12 months would be an annual growth rate of -1.24 percent. Jobs are up 49 thousand for the last 12 months. (note 5) The 15 year growth rate equals +.72 percent, slower than the national average. Education ranks 4th among 12 sectors with 9.5 percent of establishment jobs.

9. Health Care +40
Health care jobs were up 40 thousand from October to 20.092 million in November. An increase of 40 thousand each month for the next 12 months would be an annual growth rate of +2.40 percent. Jobs are up 439 thousand for the last 12 months. (note 6) The current month was above long term trends and greater than growth from a year ago when the annual growth rate was +2.23 percent. Health care has been growing at +2.32 percent annual rate for the last 15 years, a rate greater than the national rate. Health care ranks 3rd of 12 with 13.4 percent of establishment jobs.

10. Leisure and hospitality +15
Leisure and hospitality jobs went up +15 thousand from October to 16.444 million in November. An increase of 15 thousand each month for the next 12 months would be an annual growth rate of +1.10 percent. Jobs are up 268 thousand for the last 12 months. (note 7) The 5 year growth rate is 2.63%. More than 80 percent of leisure and hospitality are accommodations and restaurants assuring that most of the new jobs are in restaurants. Leisure and hospitality ranks 4th of 12 with 11.0 percent of establishment jobs. It moved up from 7th in the 1990's to 5th in the last few years.

11. Other +0
Other Service jobs, which include repair, maintenance, personal services and non-profit organizations remained the same for October at 5.882 million jobs in November. An increase of 0 thousand each month for the next 12 months would be an annual growth rate of 0.0 percent. Jobs are up 65 thousand for the last 12 months. (note 8) Other services had +.57 percent growth for the last 15 years. These sectors rank 10th of 12 with 3.9 percent of total non-farm establishment jobs.

12. Government, excluding education +2
Government service employment was up 2 thousand from October to 11.966 million jobs in November. An increase of 2 thousand each month for the next 12 months would be an annual growth rate of +.23 percent. Jobs are up 32 thousand for the last 12 months. (note 9) Government jobs excluding education tend to increase slowly but surely with a 15 year growth rate of +.22 percent. Government, excluding education, ranks 7th of 12 with 8.0 percent of total non-farm establishment jobs.


Sector Notes___________________________

(1) The total cited above is non-farm establishment employment that counts jobs and not people. If one person has two jobs then two jobs are counted. It excludes agricultural employment and the self employed. Out of a total of people employed agricultural employment typically has about 1.5 percent, the self employed about 6.8 percent, the rest make up wage and salary employment. Jobs and people employed are close to the same, but not identical numbers because jobs are not the same as people employed: some hold two jobs. Remember all these totals are jobs. back

(2) Information Services is part of the new North American Industry Classification System(NAICS). It includes firms or establishments in publishing, motion picture & sound recording, broadcasting, Internet publishing and broadcasting, telecommunications, ISPs, web search portals, data processing, libraries, archives and a few others.back

(3) Financial Activities includes deposit and non-deposit credit firms, most of which are still known as banks, savings and loan and credit unions, but also real estate firms and general and commercial rental and leasing.back

(4) Business and Professional services includes the professional areas such as legal services, architecture, engineering, computing, advertising and supporting services including office services, facilities support, services to buildings, security services, employment agencies and so on.back

(5) Education includes private and public education. Therefore education job totals include public schools and colleges as well as private schools and colleges. back

(6) Health care includes ambulatory care, private hospitals, nursing and residential care, and social services including child care. back

(7) Leisure and hospitality has establishment with arts, entertainment and recreation which has performing arts, spectator sports, gambling, fitness centers and others, which are the leisure part. The hospitality part has accommodations, motels, hotels, RV parks, and full service and fast food restaurants. back

(8) Other is a smorgasbord of repair and maintenance services, especially car repair, personal services and non-profit services of organizations like foundations, social advocacy and civic groups, and business, professional, labor unions, political groups and political parties. back

(9) Government job totals include federal, state, and local government administrative work but without education jobs. back



Jobs are not the same as employment because jobs are counted once but one person could have two jobs adding one to employment but two to jobs. Also the employment numbers include agricultural workers, the self employed, unpaid family workers, household workers and those on unpaid leave. Jobs are establishment jobs and non-other. back


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Janesville: An American Story

Amy Goldstein, Janesville: An American Story (NY: Simon & Shuster, 2017), 297 pages, $27.00

In Janesville, Wisconsin December 23, 2008 the General Motors Plant closed right after the last Chevy Tahoe rolled off the assembly line. The closing left everyone in fear in a town of 63,000 about three fourths of the way between Chicago and Madison. In Janesville, the book, author Amy Goldstein writes a narrative account of the personal losses resulting from a strictly economic decision made by absentee managers.

The book begins earlier in June 2008 when the announcement comes for the plant to be closed. Narrative continues with year by year events through 2013 followed by a brief epilogue. Material includes personal interviews of people and families affected by the shut down. Goldstein lists these people at the beginning as a “Cast of Characters” that she followed and interviewed over five years. The cast of characters has 14 family members from three families and eleven other people.

Goldstein divides the material into fifty-five generally short chapters with six yearly breaks – 2008, 2009, and so on - to help readers keep track of time. All three families relied on jobs in manufacturing from GM and from Lear Corporation, an auto parts supplier making car seats for GM. The Lear plant would close shortly, April of 2009. One family, the Vaughns, had both spouses lose jobs at Lear. The other families, the Whiteakers and the Wopats, had one spouse lose a job at GM, which provided their primary support.

Two of the eleven other people in the story, Kristi Beyer and Sue Olmstead, lost manufacturing jobs from plant closures; Beyer worked at Lear, Olmstead lost a job at another Janesville auto parts supplier. The remaining nine people Goldstein followed include their Congressman Paul Ryan, a state senator, three educators, two business women, the director of Rock County job center and a journalist now doing a radio show.

The unemployed Vaughns go back to school at Blackhawk Technical College. Mike studies HR and Barb studies law enforcement. They find jobs in their new fields at lower pay.

The unemployed Jerald Whiteaker takes a $4,000 buyout rather than continue in layoff since he knows he does not want to leave Janesville. He takes a succession of low paid jobs that prevent him from supporting his family. His two daughters get jobs and his wife works part time. They get by, barely.

The unemployed Matt Wopat takes unemployment and SUB benefits for a while before deciding to return to school in a Blackhawk degree program. He does not plan to leave Janesville but retains his UAW negotiated option to work at his Janesville wage of $28 an hour at another GM plant. After a short stint in school he does not see much return from his Blackhawk efforts and so decides to leave for a job at GM’s Fort Wayne, Indiana plant. He commutes back to Janesville on weekends.

The unemployed Kristi Beyer attends classes in law enforcement at Blackhawk with Barb Vaughn. After two years they finish and both take jobs at the county jail at much lower wages of $16.47 an hour.

The stories of coping by the laid off move along interspersed with stories of Janesville and Wisconsin politics and efforts by others to provide charitable services or otherwise cope with the dulling effect of a regional recession and 13.4 percent local unemployment.

Goldstein describes efforts to cope with details of charity efforts, describing a new food bank called ECHO (Everyone Cooperating to Help Others) and an enterprising high school teacher who stockpiles food in a closet to donate to needy students not too embarrassed to ask for it. A charity health clinic operated before the GM shutdown, but now overwhelmed, it has to turn away patients.

A social worker at the Janesville Schools, Ann Forbeck, works as a homeless student liaison with a mission to help homeless students in a system with four hundred homeless kids. Homeless shelters, it turns out, do not admit teenagers and no one over 15 is eligible for foster care. Goldstein follows Forbeck through her extensive fund raising efforts to provide for teenagers, her many refusals, and an incident of a brother and sister dumped out of car abandoned by a mother who shouts “I can’t keep these kids” before driving off. Finally after several years delay we learn she co-founds a group that provides temporary shelter for homeless teens.

The Rock County supervisors devised an incentive package to keep GM in Janesville with $152 million of state and local incentives, additional UAW give backs of $213 million and some private incentives. Goldstein reported it as the largest incentive subsidy offered in Wisconsin history; it was barely half of Michigan giveaways.

A local banker, Mary Willmer, and a wealthy local women, Diane Hendricks, also promote luring business investment with tax breaks. They approached the Janesville City Council to help bring a start up tech company with a $25 million government grant and 125 jobs. There is opposition but only 1 vote against $9 million of incentives from the declining coffers of Janesville. There would be many delays.

These were the years of Governor Scott Walker’s cuts in school budgets and attacks on unions. Goldstein reviews the protest that included some from Janesville that join the throngs on the Wisconsin capital steps. A later chapter covers the Walker recall vote. Janesville Local 95 of UAW works for the governors recall, but mostly with help by those older and retired since only 438 remain as UAW members out of more than 7,000 from a decade before. Mary Willmer and Diane Hendricks support Walker with $510,000 in contributions in the winning campaign, but Janesville votes for recall, although only 53 to 46 percent.

Goldstein gives periodic reports on Paul Ryan, but these reports only add depressing details to a disheartening story; Ryan has no help for Janesville. He offers his personal “American Idea” for an approach to poverty: people who need help should not look to government like the case of FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society. Instead they should turn to the generosity of their own community, which he thinks the dedicated people of Janesville are doing so well. He sounded like Herbert Hoover in the great depression, but there are few signs of anger from the victims in her stories. She also reports on repeated efforts of the director of the Rock Country Job Center, Bob Borremans, to get Congressman Ryan to visit the Center, but he never came.

The book reads easily in a direct journalistic style and readers can follow along and wonder what they might do in the same situation. For the most part, Goldstein does not offer judgments and refrains from moralizing opinions or conclusions. Readers will have to do that. There are detailed source notes and a bibliography that lists 15 related books that take a look at other disruptions brought by corporate America’s unilateral decisions. Two of them, George Packer’s book, The Unwinding, and Steven Greenhouse’s book, The Big Squeeze, are reviewed on this site.

I wish though she had asked more questions. Could the Wopats admit the $28 dollar wage and the option to move to Fort Wayne be appreciated as part of an UAW negotiated contract? It would have been worse without the UAW. What happened to house and real estate values? When a primary employer picks up and leaves house prices take a tumble. Did Matt Wopat commute to Fort Wayne because he could not afford to move, or was it just a choice? Would they continue to vote for Paul Ryan, and why?

No one in the book questioned what continues in the United States as the absolute right of corporations to move and destroy local job and housing markets, or to demand tax subsidies and special favors to stay, or to come, to a place like Janesville. If companies move and the CEO, its management, board of directors, and stockholders make profitable gains, while wage earners confront even bigger losses, no one compares gains and losses. Everyone accepts the glorious workings of the free market, even the victims; just ask Paul Ryan.

Friday, November 9, 2018

My Plan for Infrastructure Spending

My Plan for Infrastructure Spending

Politicians have returned to talking infrastructure spending to boast the economy and create jobs. The press actually suggests it could be something bipartisan. Trouble is titanic budget deficits make new infrastructure hard to pay for especially when Congress keeps cutting taxes for the rich who do not agree they should have to pay taxes.

Two years ago Trump discussed ways to make it profitable for his friends in business to take over infrastructure expansion, but they couldn’t figure out how to make it profitable for business to bother without turning over parks, waterways, airports and highways to corporate America and letting them charge monopoly prices.

I have a good plan though because I notice the credits at the beginning and end of PBS television news and views has a longer and longer list of foundations and trusts that give away money. The rich hope to get us to feel good about them so they can feel good about themselves.

The growth of foundation portfolios goes with tax cuts for the rich and corporate America, and with income inequality. It should also help Americans realize the United States has an idle rich so bloated with income and assets they can’t possibly spend on themselves they put it in tax free foundations. That way they can direct national resources by personal preference without need to respond to representative government, or those pesky voters.

For the last three decades, at least, America’s productivity gains have been converted to profits not wages. These profits to the rich and foundation assets amount to lost wages for the working class. But the rich can show their public spirit by contributing 25 percent of their required annual foundation giveaways to pay for infrastructure spending. Here is a plan that requires nothing from Trump or a do-nothing Congress.

It’s a perfect, fast action plan, but I’m not holding my breath! Chairitee! Chairitee!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Grown Up Anger

Daniel Wolff, Grown Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and the Calumet Massacre of 1913, (NY: Harper-Collins, 2017), $26.99

In Grown Up Anger author Daniel Wolff connects a labor history narrative with the evolution of mid 20th century protest music. As the title suggests, the labor history emphasizes the 1913 copper strike in Keweenaw County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and the protest music discussion emphasizes the work of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Woody Guthrie was born in 1912 while Bob Dylan was born in 1941, and so the music covers the depression era in the 1930’s into the modern era. There are 14 chapters with 259 pages.

It was not obvious to me how the title, Grown Up Anger, relates to labor history and protest music but Wolff uses the opening pages to explain his choice. “History happens in a classroom. I didn’t (voluntarily) approach the world that way.” Instead he connected through anger, “Specifically, the voice of Bob Dylan.” Wolff explains his feeling that Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” was the sound of unresolved anger, which “didn’t seem to need to justify itself.”

Since it was July 1965 and Wolff was thirteen years old, he felt adolescent anger that could not be discussed with dismissive adults; “If you did, you got a look that meant, ‘Oh, yes, you’re a child.’’ By now, 52 years later, looking back generates Grown Up Anger, which can be written down in articulate prose.

The remainder of Chapter One provides a reminiscence for 1960’s music and the Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie place in it. Wolff introduces the Guthrie song “1913 Massacre” that makes an early connection to the Keweenaw copper strike, a song I did not previously know about. Chapter 2 introduces more Bob Dylan biography; chapter 3 introduces more Woody Guthrie biography. Both chapters relate their early interest in music.

Chapter 4 narrates the early history of Keweenaw County, Michigan copper mining and union organizing, which picks up again and continues in chapters 7, 9, and 12. The history moves along to the December 24, 1913 Christmas party and the infamous “Massacre” that took place at Italian Hall in Calumet. I reviewed a book length account of the 1913 Keweenaw strike by Steve Lehto, Death’s Door on this blog. Death's Door Death's Door Lehto, Ella Reeve Bloor and Arthur Thurner are also important sources used in Wolff’s account.

The other chapters - 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, and 13 - return to narrate and analyze the music and careers of Guthrie and Dylan. We find out “both Guthrie and Dylan spent their childhoods in relatively prosperous, supportive, Middle American families.” Woody Guthrie and his cousin Jack Guthrie left Oklahoma for California looking for music careers. They succeeded getting a radio show and confronted the great “Okie” migration in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and In Dubious Battle in the process.

Dylan was 14 in 1955 when Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi and was already trying to express himself through music. He graduated from Hibbing High in 1959 and recalled “I just turned my back on it. It couldn’t give me anything.” He went to the University of Minnesota and then to New York to pursue music as a career.

While Dylan and Guthrie remain the central theme of the music narrative it wanders and weaves its way into a variety of related historical events and musical figures. There are composer-musicians, Earl Robinson, Paul Robeson, Lead Belly, Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez; music groups, the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Weavers; agitators and activists, Upton Sinclair, Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.; one composer-musician-activist Joe Hill. There are music titles and discussion of lyrics for many songs, especially Dylan and Guthrie songs and the songs of others that influenced them and of their influence on each other.

As the discussion moves along it mixes more with politics and political events; the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Communist purges of the 1940’s and early 1950’s. Suddenly lyrics were subversive and folk singers like Guthrie and the Weavers were denounced as Communists. Wolff describes the post 1955 folk revival and the Guthrie and Dylan part in it. The Dylan song “Like a Rolling Stone” has a suspicious connection to a doggerel poem composed by Joe Hill on the eve of his execution, or assassination as I would see it. The first stanza in his twelve line poem reads “My will is easy to decide. For there is nothing to divide. My kind don’t need to fuss and moan. Moss don’t grow to a rolling stone.”

A final chapter takes a driving tour through present day Keweenaw where copper mining ceased in 1968, fifty years ago. Wolff gives inequality data from 1913 and today and finds nothing has changed. The book ends with a brief allegory where the landscape beneath the surface in the world’s shell remains a molten core in a “kind of rage.” Enough said.

I cannot think of a comparable book, but that’s not a criticism. The narrative reads easily and chapter titles and divisions help move the story along. There are footnotes although they are not numbered but appear by the page rather than by number, which I don’t like. A bibliography includes some standard labor history books like Philip Foner, Jeremy Brecher, Melvin Dubofsky and Foster Rhea Dulles. I wonder about the audience that reads the book since I am guessing people interested in Guthrie and Dylan would not know much about strikes like the Keweenaw strike. In that way people interested in the music could get a first introduction to labor history. America would be better off if it knows more of its labor history. I predict it would create more Grown Up Anger.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Harley-Davidson Motor Cycles, Trade Wars and our Obsolete Constitution

Harley-Davidson Motor Cycles, Trade Wars and our Obsolete Constitution

Harley-Davidson Motor Cycles recently announced it will be moving some production to Europe to avoid new tariffs made in retaliation to unilateral increases in United States tariffs. Harley officials reported a $2,200 price penalty from the Trump tariff war. In spite of the abuse and ridicule from Trump, Harley-Davidson Motor Cycles did what any business has to do week in and week out; they adjusted to a change in economic circumstance. In this case Trump made a significant change in their market condition imposing tariffs with a guaranteed retaliation.

For at least 50 years the United States sent representatives to repeated meetings of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade(GATT) with instructions to negotiate lower tariffs and trade barriers. The world economy and companies like Harley-Davidson have adjusted completely to the lower tariffs. The Trump tariffs make American companies especially vulnerable because retaliation only affects American products made in America; every other company from every other country now has a price advantage over American companies like Harley-Davidson.

More companies will have to do what Harley-Davidson does, which will accelerate job loss in the United States. Trump remains immune to economic forecasts and market conditions while his conduct continues to be so erratic no one can predict how bad things might get.


Congress granted Presidents the dictatorial power to impose tariffs for national security reasons, but has allowed Trump to define national security as anything he wants. Congress can take the power back anytime it wants. As Trump threats and bluster translate into retaliation by other countries a weak and plaintive protest of corporate America has appeared in the media, but nothing happens about the tariffs. Corporate America appears powerless to challenge Trump, a Republican no less.

Congress can be obnoxious and threatening and make life a misery for administrators; it can stall and obstruct, but it can’t make a simple decision to stop an idiotic policy that guarantees economic loss as Harley-Davidson officials so clearly understand.

The current Trump tariff abuses highlight the workings of an obsolete constitution. The founding fathers designed a Congress with machinery designed for obstruction; very small numbers can obstruct majorities in a bicameral Congress filled with rules to block decisions. No balance of power remains among the three branches of government we all learned about in high school. The initiative and power have all passed to the President and his executive branch machinery. Anyone who doubts that should ask why corporate America with all its money bags looks at economic loss as a spectator in a brewing trade war?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

DC Initiative 77 and the Tip wars

On June 19, 2018 District of Columbia voters had a chance to vote on Initiative 77 to do away with the sub minimum wage and the tip credit for tipped employees like waiters, waitresses, and bartenders. They did so by a 55 percent to 44 percent margin. [D.C. voters approve initiative to raise minimum wage for tipped workers to $15, Washington Post, June 20, 2018]

The minimum wage in Washington, DC is $12.50 an hour in 2018, but as with the Federal minimum wage the District of Columbia has a sub minimum wage for businesses with employees who customarily receive tips. The sub minimum wage in DC is $3.33 an hour. Under rules governing the sub minimum wage those restaurants that pay a sub minimum wage must verify the additional amount from tips are enough to bring an employee up to at least the minimum wage, a practice known as taking the tip credit. If tips are not enough to equal the minimum wage then the employer is expected to keep track of the short fall and make up the difference. Notice that means all tips paid above $3.33 an hour up to $9.17 an hour, or $12.50 minus $3.33, are in lieu of normal wage obligations and become a subsidy to the restaurant.

Initiative 77 eliminates the sub minimum wage gradually by raising the current $3.33 cash wage plus tips to be a $15.00 an hour cash wage by 2025. After 2025 any tips will be the property of servers in addition to their cash wage; the business subsidy will gradually disappear.

The subsidy from the sub minimum wage dates from 1942 and a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to ratify a private scheme to use tips as wages. The wage data reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its Occupational Employment Survey suggest the restaurant subsidy scheme in the sub minimum wage does not ensure employees are paid the minimum wage. In DC the median wage reported for waiters and waitresses in 2017 was only $11.86, not $12.50, which means something over half of waiters and waitresses earn less than the minimum wage including tips.

California, Oregon and Washington are three states that abandoned the sub minimum wage for tipped employees. California and Oregon have a minimum wage of $10.5 an hour and Washington $11.50 an hour for all industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports all 31 of California metropolitan areas and 5 sub state non-metropolitan regions have a median wage for waiters and waitresses above their minimum wage; and for Oregon’s 8 metropolitan areas and 4 sub state non-metropolitan regions; and for Washington’s 13 metropolitan areas and 4 sub state non-metropolitan regions.

The effect in these three states suggests it pays for the working class waiter and waitress to get rid of the sub minimum wage subsidy for restaurants. If, or when, restaurants confront much higher food prices they have to experiment with a combination of cost cutting and price increases. They might serve smaller portions, or change the menu to save costs while experimenting with higher prices. I’m hard pressed to understand why they expect to avoid doing that when wage costs rise. They have had this favor since 1942 and judging from their publicity campaign against changing it they think it as their inalienable right.

The Washington Post article mentioned above goes on to discuss the grimy politics of DC voter initiatives because apparently the city council and always the U.S. Congress can overrule a voter initiative. To justify throwing out a District wide election opponents of the working class debase democracy by complaining only 18 percent voted in the election as an excuse to ignore voters. They act as though they know the other 82 percent would have defeated the measure, and we all should respect the lethargy of no shows. If it was Trump talking I could understand it, but the DC city Council?

Strike! Strike?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

GOP Repeals Michigan Wage Law

In Michigan the Republican controlled legislature repealed the prevailing wage law that applied to public construction projects. Supporters cited by the Detroit Free Press [Det. FP, June 7, 2018] claim repeal will save taxpayers money as projects paying prevailing wages “cost 10-15 percent more than if it was built by the private sector.” State representative Gary Glenn called prevailing wages a “discriminatory relic of the past.” He claims it will save “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

No one quoted in the Free Press mentions a dollar wage when speaking of a prevailing wage, but if repeal will save money then wages must fall and for wages to fall there must be a big surplus of labor. Since business keeps whining about labor shortages, they contradict themselves.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median wage for 50 construction and extraction occupations, which in Michigan is $22.67 an hour, or $47,167 a year. That puts Michigan 19th among the fifty states and the District of Columbia. A 10 percent cut would be $4,717 and leave $42,438 a year.

If, as seems likely, business contractors bid on public projects then there can be no guarantee the contractors will bid lower in response to repeal of a prevailing wage law. Unless there is vigorous competition among many contractors they maybe able to bid as usual and pocket the wage savings themselves. It appears quite likely taxpayers will get nothing from this repeal.

The Free Press reported that all Democrats in the House voted against the measure and therefore Republicans take the entire responsibility for repeal, which makes the whole episode another in string of examples of politics in a divided society. Saving taxpayers was just the excuse. Democrats will have to figure out why so many in the working class vote for Republican pickpockets who lower their standard of living.