Friday, December 19, 2008


Back on September 25th the Wall Street Journal published an article about nervous investors who were buying low yield, short term U.S. Treasury Bills as safe securities. [Demand for Short-Term Treasury Debt Puts a Crimp in World-Wide Supply, wsj, 9/25/08]

I remembered that because I just read another article about nervous investors buying government securities at low yields, under 1 percent. This time it is the Washington Post writing about the low yield U.S. Treasury bonds and declaring that "it’s terrible news for the economy, which relies on people’s willingness to invest and lend money." [Flight to U.S. Treasury Bonds Bad News for Economy, Wash Post, 12/2/08]

Others in the financial world are quoted. One said “The simplest way to think about this is that nobody wants to hold any risky assets.” Another said, "You can cut rates all you want, but if nobody wants to take risk, no matter how attractive an investment seems to be, no one will put up the capital for it."

But wait a minute. Buying government bonds is investing and lending money. Consider the wreckage of the last few months after a decade of mortgage lenders making billions of sub prime mortgage loans. Investment houses like Bear-Stearns and Lehman Brothers risked billions of America’s loanable funds, our savings, speculating with sub prime mortgages, but our savings did nothing except give them a chance to resell financial assets at a higher price.

Our savings could have helped fund our massive Federal deficit. Instead we owe foreign nationals who bought U.S. Treasury Bills and Bonds while Americans were on a speculative spree buying up risky assets that have failed by the billion. We want our savings to fund the production of long lived assets and valuable services. The private sector has failed to do that lately.

Government bonds earned 4 to 5 percent interest for the last 10 years. If we had invested more in the government and government had used our savings and rebuilt New Orleans we would have something to show for it and thousands of jobs in the process.

The past decade has proved in the most decisive fashion that American’s are ready to take risks and to lend and invest money, but there is nothing that makes private lending and private debt better that public lending and public debt. It all depends on the assets we buy. Remember one rule: it is not who invests, but in what.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Credit Deployment

A recent headline from Wednesday, November 26th in the Washington Post reads “U.S. Moves to Revive Consumer Spending.” The first line of the article tells readers “The government said yesterday that it will deploy up to $800 billion to make it cheaper for Americans to get a home mortgage, take out a car loan or borrow money through a credit card . . .”

The word “deploy” has never been a financial term in my memory. Troops get deployed, but money is typically saved or spent. Dollars need to be spent rather than deployed to revive the economy so the article’s quote of the word deploy tells us the government knows Americans are short of more solid sources of money to spend: wages, salaries and savings. Instead they apparently hope consumers will return to their usual excess and borrow.

Spending our way to prosperity was the policy of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930’s and every president since, but a policy that deploys dollars for consumer loans differs from previous expansionary policies.

Will it work? As a saver I believe there are many other savers like me who have matched percentage payments into defined contribution pension plans and 401(k) plans as well as other purchases of CD’s, stocks and bonds. This fall’s stock market and interest rate drops have caused a massive decline in purchasing power for this group.

As savers in a good economy we were the least likely to use consumer loans, or abuse consumer credit. In a bad economy, it is hard to think savers will be the ones most likely to resort to consumer borrowing. We are the group more able to postpone discretionary purchases like cars, clothes, electronics and vacations.

For the many others who defaulted on sub prime loans and continue to struggle to pay credit card balances it is hard to believe the government’s plan will find them ready and able to borrow more and spend us out of recession.

Recession appears likely with Gross Domestic Product down last quarter (3 Months) and revised figures due shortly. When our government stops talking about consumer loans and starts discussing tax policy and the Federal Budget, there will be good reason for hope. If all they want to do is "deploy" consumer credit, expect another quarter of decline.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Credit Ratings

Many savers with a 401(k) or other investment account are probably familiar with the Standard & Poors, Moody’s or other credit rating firms. Monthly statements usually include their ratings alongside a list of assets.

Lately though the credit rating firms have admitted to Congress [Washington Post, Credit-Rating Firms Grilled Over Conflicts, October 23, 2008] their ratings have been tainted by conflict of interest. Moody’s and Standard & Poors are paid by the firms they rate. The article quoted a memo written at Standard & Poors by someone who said "Let’s hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time this house of cards falters."

Long before I read that anonymous statement I wondered about credit ratings and whether they are good guides for savers and investors. Credit rating firms use past performance to rate future risk.

Forecasting the conditions in markets years ahead is hard enough but the current wave of defaults on mortgage backed securities has spread to other firms in a domino effect. The good management and triple A rating at one firm can be affected by defaults at other firms. Ratings cannot be given in isolation from the solvency of the larger financial system.

Since a bond is an enforceable contract just like a home mortgage, it is worth asking whether a failure to pay interest and principal on time is the important financial risk. As long as a defaulting institution remains after a default, then late payments can be recovered later.

For example, corporate bond holders risk losing interest and principal in a default, but a corporation can literally disappear in a bankruptcy. Cities, counties and states do not disappear. Even if they go into default they continue to have taxing authority to meet their legal pledge of full faith and credit to pay their bond obligations.

Furthermore, city and county governments are created and governed by state legislation, which makes state government responsible for city and country bond payments in the event of their default.

Following this logic, even small municipalities should have higher credit ratings than private sector corporations. Size and name recognition should not matter in credit ratings and the difference of market interest rates between government and corporate bonds may not reflect actual differences of risk. Remember too non-federal government bonds and bond funds are not taxed as part of income.

The article did not tell readers if Congress wants to impose professional standards, or what if anything it intends to do about this newly reported conflict of interest. In the mean time, remember governments are likely to be around to pay their bills.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Circuit City Jobs

Circuit City is back in the news [Washington Post, November 6, 2008] with plans to close 155 stores and layoff thousands in bankruptcy reorganization. I say back in the news because there was an article about Circuit City in the Washington Post back on March 29, 2007 titled “Circuit City Cuts 3,400 ‘Overpaid’ Workers.”

The cuts came out of 40,000 in store jobs, or 9 percent of the company’s in store workforce. The firings were not related to job performance the company announced, but came as part of an effort to cut costs and improve the bottom line.

They were going to save on labor costs we learn later in the article by firing their “overpaid” staff and rehiring new sales people at lower wages. That may sound like a way to save money, but now, 18 months later, there is good reason to doubt they saved any money.

Circuit City is part of retail trade in a sector called Electronics and Appliance Stores where salesmanship is important. Circuit City buyers may need to learn about complicated electronic products and how they work before they make up their mind. Retail Salespersons do selling, which means explaining and demonstrating products, answering questions, knowing warranty terms or other product information.

In other retail sectors like gasoline stations and grocery stores, selling and salesmanship are not as important. People know if their gas tank is empty and they buy their pasta and potatoes from a cashier, not a salesperson. Explaining and selling takes time, skill and experience and so more and better paid retail sales jobs are needed at electronic and appliance stores than gasoline stations or grocery stores.

The need for salesmanship is partly reflected in staffing where retail salespersons and their supervisors make up more than 40 percent of retail jobs. Staffing at gasoline stations contrasts with electronics and appliance stores where more than 60 percent of jobs are cashier, but virtually none are retail salespersons.

The Washington Post article back in March 2007 informed readers that Circuit City dismissed their sales staff earning wages over of $15.50 an hour, or their most experienced and longest tenured sales staff.

We can be sure Circuit City management saved on wages, but wage savings are not cost savings unless they lower costs per dollar of sales. Ignoring productivity tells us that Circuit City management did not know the meaning of overpaid, or even how to save.

True, the economy is doing poorly now, which is probably part of Circuit City problems, but as the saying goes, “They were penny wise and pound foolish.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mr. Greenspan Talks

The caption in the Washington Post reads “Greenspan Says He Was Wrong on Regulation.” [WP, Oct. 24, 2008] The former Federal Reserve Board Chairman told Congressional Committee members the “… crisis has shaken his very understanding of how markets work, and agreed that certain financial derivatives should be regulated – an idea he long resisted.”

After his opening comments to the committee Mr. Greenspan argues against regulation and warns Congress that regulation is a threat to economic growth, despite the collapse of derivatives markets this fall.

Greenspan worships free markets so much he forgets that free markets and regulation work together all the time. Take physicians. Physicians are regulated because they have to go to medical school and get a license before they practice medicine. Across America biology students dissect frogs, but without that licensing regulation any one of them could decide they know anatomy so well they can be surgeons, ready to do surgery on you and me.

Regulating doctors lets us be confident they are competent to be physicians; without regulation many would suffer before word got out and free markets acted to eliminate incompetent physicians.

Free markets need equal opportunity and they operate best when we know what we are getting. Regulations requiring equal opportunity, disclosure, honesty and integrity aide and promote the smooth operation of financial markets just as they do in physicians markets.

Remember banks and all financial intermediaries operate with one purpose: to attract the funds of net savers so the savings can be returned to the spending stream by loans to net borrowers. For many years savings accounts, certificates of deposit, stocks, bonds and mutual funds have served the millions in America who save.

Unless Mr. Greenspan will explain what unregulated derivatives can do for America’s economy, which are beyond the established and regulated methods of saving and investing, then we can feel justified that he is arguing against disclosure, honesty, and integrity essential in financial markets.

After the collapse of derivatives markets, and then financial markets, further opposition to regulatory standards gets close to defending secrecy and deception. We would like to think better of Mr. Greenspan, but given his testimony he is making it hard.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

1929 meet 2008

There are many comparisons in recent newspapers between the crash of 1929 and the crisis of 2008. The media of today has not settled on a consistent title for America’s current events but “Crisis” appears to be the most common caption among the newspapers I see.

Many books and articles have been published on the stock market crash of 1929, but one book in particular stands out as short, only 197 pages, readable and relevant for today’s debacle. It is The Great Crash, by John Kenneth Galbraith.

After using newspaper and other accounts he describes what happened in journalistic fashion with a final chapter titled Causes and Consequence. The first cause on his numbered list is “The Bad Distribution of Income.”

Allow me a brief quote.

In 1929 the rich were indubitably rich. … The proportion of personal income received in the form of interest, dividends and rent – the income broadly speaking of the well-to-do – was about twice as great as in the years following the Second World War.

This high unequal distribution of income meant that the economy was dependent on a high level of investment or a high level of luxury spending or both. The rich cannot buy great quantities of bread. If they are to dispose of what they receive it must be on luxuries or by way of investment in new plants and new projects.

Mr. Galbraith was writing 50 years ago about events of nearly 80 years ago, but it is helpful for man of his distinction to confirm what is the underlying cause of America’s crash of 2008: the bad distribution of income.

The growing inequality of income is well documented in the Federal government’s publication of the Current Population Survey. In their table of Selected Measures of Household Income Dispersion the highest 10 Percent of household income continue to gain income share year by year on the bottom 10 percent, but also the bottom 20, 50 and 80 percent of households.

The wealthy pay the same price for bread, eggs and milk as everybody else which is why they have extra money to speculate in Wall Street’s new and exotic investment derivatives: hedge funds, collateralized debt obligations, mortgage and asset backed securities, principal only strips, credit default swaps and so on.

In the mean time heavily taxed wages are going up slowly, but not as fast as prices, a reality documented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More of us are reaching credit card limits and home equity loan limits. Refinancing mortgages for cash, or lower interest rates, did provide a boast to buying power, but these too are running low.

A mass society needs mass participation, which the unequal distribution of income limits. The crisis of 2008 tells us the wealthy have failed to return their savings and tax cuts back into the economy in a constructive way to create long lived assets and jobs. They have failed themselves and the country. It is time for the wealthy to pay more tax.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dividends and Taxes

In 2007 someone starting out in their twenties with a modest $30,000 a year salary will be expected to pay $5,091.25 in federal income and payroll taxes. For a single person who earns the same $30,000 as dividend income the total federal tax would be $1,062.50.

For a married couple starting out where both earn $30,000 a year salary, they pay federal tax of $10,182.50. For a married couple who earns the same $60,000 as dividend income they pay $2,125 in total federal tax. There is no payroll tax on dividend income.

This extraordinary favoritism toward corporate dividends has been going on since 2003. It not only debases work but changes America’s saving and consumption. A couple starting out in their twenties will be unlikely to have dividend income, but their very high taxes make it difficult to save anything, or buy a house.

Those with dividend income since 2003 are likely to be older with years of saving and a nest egg of savings and dividend income. Likely as well, they already own a home. Their lucrative tax breaks have generated savings for them and loanable funds for banks and financial intermediaries.

Apparently they all forgot that savers earn a return only if borrowers who can pay back their loans. The millions of sub prime mortgages and the rapid and large number of foreclosures and defaults make it clear those who are starting out and many others cannot afford to buy a home, or borrow all those loanable funds.

There was a comment in one of my previous posts where a reader suggested Congress and the Bush administration has been pushing sub prime loans to boast home ownership for political reasons. I am sure that is correct and recent testimony and discussion in the Wall Street Journal confirms that view.

It is the same Congress and Bush Administration that promoted tax breaks for dividends and ignores the income inequality their policies help to generate. It makes no difference what any one says about fairness in taxes. America has to raise taxes on the wealthy and give tax relief to working Americans, or the economy will continue to flounder and decline.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


I have talked with many people about last week’s bailout; they are all angry. Some that I have talked with were complete strangers who started in ranting and raving at the newsstand and several at my neighborhood library. In my unscientific poll it is unanimous: everyone regards the bailout plan as a payoff to politically connected cronies who caused the defaults. Many recognize there are better alternative plans.

For the federal government to buy the current defaulted mortgage backed securities has enormous potential for abuse. Salomon brothers got the idea to bundle home mortgages together and re-sell them as bonds back in the 1980’s. They call these bonds various things like collateralized debt obligations or mortgage backed securities, but they are not the same as bonds at all.

For example, if I buy a $10,000 municipal bond at 5 percent for a term of 10 years, I get $250 every six months and after 10 years I get my $10,000 back. If I need money before the 10 year term is up I can sell my bond. If the interest rate is up I will have to accept less than $10,000 because potential buyers know they can earn 6 percent instead of 5.

To sell my bond I will have to discount the price so that $250 twice a year will earn a 6 percent yield. If I sell after 5 years with a 6 percent interest rate, then $250 twice a year and a $10,000 final payout will sell at $9,573.* A home mortgage all by itself is like a bond because it has known payment and maturity dates, which make it possible to determine the yield at any time. Mortgage backed securities are many mortgages all bundled together as a lump sum and then divided into smaller but different parts to be resold to investors.

Trouble is the underlying mortgage holders can prepay at anytime and for investors who have mortgage backed securities that contain many mortgages there is no way to know when prepayments will come. Mortgage backed securities were marketed by selling them at a discount over the total of their final payout. It is just that the date of the final payout could not be specified. Without a known maturity date or a known number of payments a yield cannot be determined, but only guessed at as a gamble.

Any transaction of these securities will be a negotiation between sellers who do not know for sure what they are selling and a government that does not know for sure what it is buying. It is a situation ripe for cronyism and abuse.

Congress has the authority to ban the use of securities without a known yield, instead they did nothing but decide to buy them. It looks like a bad deal for savers and taxpayers.

*[Computations are Excel functions YIELD("1/1/2004","1/1/2009",0.05,95.735,100,2,1) also FV(0.06/2,10,250,-9573.5,0)]

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Government Spending and Jobs

Recently the two candidates, and the two parties, in the presidential campaign started arguing about a government project called “The Bridge to No Where.” Apparently the project was a multi-million dollar bridge to a small Alaska Island.

Both sides now agree the project was wasteful government spending, but both sides claim their opposition to the project shows their commitment to save the taxpayer’s money and cut government spending. It is easy to be against wasteful government spending, but neither side has much to say about the role of government in America’s jobs or what might happen if government starts saving instead of spending.

Starting in December 2007 seasonally adjusted national establishment employment is down 605,000 jobs. The decline was a mixture of 590,000 jobs gone in manufacturing, construction and mining, a 168,000 decrease in private sector service jobs, but a 153,000 increase in government services employment, including education.

If we back up a whole year to August 2007 and look at change over the last 12 months then national employment is down 283,000 jobs but government employment is up 274,000 jobs.

If we back up two years to August 2006 and look at change for the last 24 months then national employment is up 1.1 million jobs, but government employment is up 476,000. The government increase in jobs is offsetting losses in manufacturing and construction that are not made up by new jobs in private services.

Actually 22.5 million work on government payrolls in local, state and federal governments, but many more work on private payrolls as part of government sponsored and government funded projects like the “Bridge to No Where.” The terms government contractor, outsourcing and privatization all signify private businesses, but they are private businesses doing government funded and government sponsored work. Government employment added to government sponsored employment is more than a mere 22.5 million: much more.

America puts a heavy burden on its jobs by funding Social Security, Medicare, Workman’s Compensation, Unemployment Insurance, and health insurance as a cost of employment. The personal income tax requires a higher rate on wages than on corporate dividends.
Both candidates say they will create jobs and we hope they do. It would be a better campaign if the candidates would suggest some new policies toward work and pay.

Right now and for the foreseeable future cuts in government spending will cause an unacceptable loss of jobs. The candidates want us to think they can manage the government to save, but without some new attitudes and new policies our government cannot save, it must spend.

Monday, August 18, 2008

High Wire

High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families, by Peter Gosselin, (New York: Basic Books, 2008) 330 pages, $26.95.

High Wire opens with an exceptionally long introduction, 34 pages actually. In it Gosselin establishes the premise of the book: America has growing economic risk and personal insecurity to go with its economic growth. He quotes from the Mayflower Compact of 1620, which was an agreement to “combine ourselves together into a civil body politic … as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”

The quaint words of the Mayflower Compact become the book’s leitmotif because Gosselin believes too many American’s in the private sector, government and elected office have abandoned their responsibilities to the health and welfare of the larger society.

Following the introduction, ten chapters and a conclusion define and describe a selection of the new risks. The narrative uses individual interviews and case studies as examples of the growing threats to personal finance. The chapters have no apparent order and can be read as individual journalistic essays.

Topics feature private sector issues that have slowly evolved through changes in practices and attitudes, especially the attitude that Americans should fend for themselves. As Gosselin notes, changes tend to take place without notice or public debate. Instead changes come as a surprise to people who think they have something - career, pension, insurance – when they do not.

For example, the chapter titled Benefits is a journalistic examination of a federal law: the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, a.k.a. ERISA. ERISA became law in 1974 to protect participants in employee benefit plans and assure benefits. Case examples describe the changing attitudes of private sector insurers who have successfully denied disability insurance claims and health insurance benefits and the court rulings that have allowed these practices and effectively changed the law.

Two more chapters cover private insurance. Material from interviews and case studies explains the new methods and practices insurers are using to limit coverage and shift losses and risks to individuals. A chapter titled Housing is about the new limits on home owners insurance.

The chapter titled Health is about private health insurance. Insurance is supposed to pool the random risks of many to reduce personal risk. Trouble is people who lose their jobs apply for health insurance in mid life, or later, when they are more likely to get sick, or be sick with pre-existing conditions like diabetes and heart disease. As Gosselin explains, the circumstance of private insurance gives the companies every incentive to insure the young and healthy, and lower their risk of big payouts by avoiding the others.

The need to avoid “adverse selection” of sick clients makes the companies continuously suspicious their applicants withhold medical information, but those who are sick will be without health care if they report the truth. In America’s system of private health insurance millions are left out, or priced out, and others find themselves without coverage when companies challenge their honesty and deny coverage, a practice called rescission.

Gosselin does an admirable job documenting the practices and shortcomings of private health insurance and the need for a national risk pool. The problems outlined here make the case for public health insurance.

A retirement chapter describes the shift away from defined benefits to defined contribution plans and 401(k) plans. It features interviews with economists and others in finance careers that have done a poor job managing their own retirement assets. In an economy with layoffs and falling wages, it is tempting for people to rob their pension plans to get through tough periods regardless of their time, energy or experience managing assets.

The chapters on employee benefits, insurance and retirement accounts have self help and buyer beware information that makes them useful as part of personal finance. Other chapters on jobs and education have less self help information, but interviews illustrate a variety of risks of layoffs, displacement and unemployment for people from a variety of educational backgrounds and managerial, skilled and unskilled occupations.

A chapter titled New Orleans describes the aftermath from hurricane Katrina. Since the Bush administration has abandoned New Orleans, the discussion here quite plausibly suggests the Bush Administration regards the call for relief as a perfect laboratory for its free market devotions. The market is supposed to take care of everything, but residents need jobs, electricity, water, sewers, schools, trash pick up, grocery stores and shopping. They cannot return until service is restored, but the city and business continuing waiting for residents to return before restoring service. With no buyers and no sellers, markets fail.

Chapter three has a title, Numbers. Numbers? It intends to use data to show the fluctuations in income and the growing insecurity we all feel. It is confusing and zigzags among charts and terms, but it is not necessary as supporting information to the other chapters.

The book keeps its focus with chapters that emphasize the cause and effects of growing economic insecurity. The interviews and case studies are essential to the arguments, but there are many people with names popping up in multiple places so that readers may want to make note of names and pages to keep track of everybody.

Public policy gets only incidental mention, but at the end Gosselin writes, “…the time is coming when unquestioning reliance on markets alone will give ground to a new politics of shared responsibility.” He makes a few specific recommendations, but just suggesting a “politics of shared responsibility” is more significant than it may sound. Remember the policy of free enterprise is doing nothing, and there are many who continue to say doing nothing is better no matter what the results.

The book takes an amiable tone and Gosselin shows patience with the many people he interviewed: a motley crew who sometimes added to their troubles doing foolish things. He does not write in the strident tones of a crusader, but in the conclusion he returns to the Mayflower Compact. From that we have to suppose he is sick of, and disgusted with, people who “ignore the general good.” After reading his book, you are likely to agree.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Consumers Trading Down

On July 11th the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “U.S. Consumers Trade Down as Economic Angst Grows.” The article described Americans saving money by choosing less expensive brands and models of products. Wholesalers and retailers are cutting back offerings of designer brands for the less expensive “plain Jane” products.

The article concentrated on products but had almost nothing to say about services. If Americans just cut back on designer brands job losses should be moderate. If America cuts back on services, unemployment will spike upwards. That is because even though establishment employment went down by 438 thousand jobs from December 2007, there is a net increase in service jobs.

Construction and manufacturing were the big losers: off more than 500 thousand jobs since December 2007. Retail trade and temporary help services were the big losers in services, which were down more the 300 thousand jobs. Telecommunications, finance, and real estate were down as well. Declining industries lost 990.5 thousand jobs so that a net decrease of 438 thousand jobs includes an increase of 552.5 thousand other jobs, all of them service jobs.

For example, new government service jobs replaced 81.5 thousand of the 990.5 thousand jobs not including 44.5 thousand new jobs in public education and 68.5 thousand new jobs in private educational services. Government taxing, borrowing and spending is helping moderate job losses.

Despite the general decline of employment, jobs in leisure and hospitality went up 88.8 thousand from December 2007 to June 2008. Restaurants are the biggest employer in leisure and hospitality with 9.8 million jobs and nearly 78 thousand new jobs since December 2007.

Cooking can be a do it yourself service, even though we go out more and more with restaurant jobs up 740 thousand since 2005. Eating out and paying others to cook helps moderate job losses.

Other jobs in leisure pursuits are trending up faster than the national average and replacing manufacturing jobs. Combine spectator sports, amusement parks, golf and country clubs, fitness centers and gambling where jobs are up to 1.85 million nationwide.

The economic angst mentioned in the Wall Street Journal has not spread to health care services, which continue to increase, up 194 thousand jobs since December 2007. Health care and social service jobs have increased every year since 1990.

Maybe the Wall Street Journal is right and more people are opting for less expensive brands, but it is trivial matter compared to America’s growing reliance on services jobs. Government, restaurant, leisure and health care jobs go up in good times and bad. If any of them start to fall that is the time to worry.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

America's Job Market Free-for-All

America’s Job Market Free-for-All

Americans should know more about their jobs. When we open our newspapers these sad Sunday mornings and read stories about Circuit City firings, plant closings and jobs moving to Bangalore, it is understandable that many think about job losses, but that is a mistake. America has job losses, but a bigger problem is the new jobs we are taking rather than the old jobs we are losing.

Many know America has fewer manufacturing jobs and more service jobs, but the service industry is frequently described in generic terms in the popular media. There will be an article discussing the demise of manufacturing employment and suddenly, near the end, the depressing tone of the article is transformed with "But jobs are expanding in service industries.” Service employment is offered as a savior for the laid off and the down and out, but without defining or explaining much about these new jobs.

Americans must have jobs. Large scale unemployment in an urban society guarantees untenable social, economic and political conditions. Since Americans require jobs to survive we can be glad to learn total spending in the American economy has generated 28.1 million more jobs since 1990, even though manufacturing employment continues its mordant, mournful decline. In data just published in March 2008 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States manufacturing employment dropped again for 2007, and down 3.8 million jobs since 1990.

The percentage share of manufacturing employment is now only slightly above 10 percent of establishment jobs and it too continues in decline. Construction employment is the only non-service employment with more jobs and it is barely half of manufacturing employment. It’s not just that service jobs are 83.9 percent of employment and climbing, but new jobs have to replace lost manufacturing jobs before there are more jobs. So even though there are 28.1 million more establishment jobs now than in 1990, there are 32 million more jobs in service sector jobs and construction in the same period.

Americans keep themselves busy inventing new service jobs all the time. However, service industry and service industry employment are not generic terms. With the new jobs there is new data to go with the new categories. What we are doing in service employment can be described in sobering detail. It is time to do just that.

The New Jobs

Over at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a.k.a. BLS, they produce labor data within the North American Industry Classification System. The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) defines a carefully crafted set of industry sectors and sub-sectors, which has sector divisions for agriculture, manufacturing, trade, government and others; 20 sectors in all. They publish United States employment data by industry within the NAICS sectors and also many sub sectors, industry groups and industries, over 1000 data series in all. Their data help us learn about those 32 million new service jobs.

Look at the new jobs in Administrative Support Services where BLS data shows an increase of 3.684 million jobs since 1990. In the NAICS documentation manual, administrative and support firms perform routine support activities for day-to-day operations of other businesses on a contract or fee basis. The NAICS definition does not tell us what companies in this sector are actually doing. The answer is lots of things. If I was going to work in this sector I would definitely pick a job in a travel agency. I can picture myself relaxing in a cheery office full of travel posters offering a witty patter of conversation describing sunny Caribbean tour sites. Pick your favorite! There are so many choices. Try a job in contracted office administration, facilities support services, employment placement, temporary help services, desktop publishing, word processing, telephone call centers, telephone answering services, telemarketing bureaus, copy centers, private mail centers, collection agencies, credit bureaus, repossession companies, court reporter companies, travel agencies, tour operators, convention bureau services, ticket services, investigation services, armored car services, security guards and patrol services, security systems companies, pest control companies, janitorial service companies, landscaping companies, carpet and upholstery cleaning services, chimney sweep companies, packaging and labeling services, convention and trade show organizers, and a few more, but I am out of breath.

With the decline in manufacturing, administrative support services looks like the ideal sector for unemployed production workers. They can start a small business. Free enterprisers sometimes speak in grandiose terms of investments in new innovations and technologies, but the administrative support services do not need much investment. A telephone, a computer, some office space should be enough to get started in many cases. Maybe a few tools: a vacuum, a feather duster, a toilet brush for the janitors; a sprayer and some chemicals for the pest control workers.
Establishments in this sector sell almost everything they do to other firms as supporting services to be carried out during a contract period. Contracts spell out performance criteria. There was a time when firms employed their own custodians and janitors. Even if starting wages were low, wages would rise with the cost of living for all employees in the company. The terms of employment were not subject to bidding and re-bidding as long as a custodian stayed with their employer.

A system of outsourcing administrative support services generates a cycle of bidding for contracts for landscaping, security services, janitorial services and others. Custodians work for contracting firms that constantly bid new contracts. Contracts tend to be one to three years, but allow cancellation on 30 days notice. It is labor intensive work. Seventy five to eighty percent of total costs come from wage costs and the contractor with the low bid is likely to be the one that pays the lowest wage.

The NAICS manual has a sector defined as food services and drinking places, which are mostly bars and restaurants. From 1990 to 2007 bar and restaurant jobs jumped 3.1 million. Cooking used to be one of America’s biggest do it yourself occupations. Everyone can stay home and cook, but more and more we go out. In the production-marketing chain of food this helps our employment and probably more than most people realize. Start on the farm and lets count America’s farmers. Next add all the jobs in pesticide, fertilizer and agricultural chemicals, and all of the jobs in agricultural implement manufacturing. Add in the jobs at farm supply wholesalers, and farm raw material wholesalers. Then move on to food manufacturing. Add all the manufacturing jobs milling, canning, freezing, bottling, refining, slaughtering, baking, brewing, distilling, fermenting and packaging. Add them to grocery store merchant wholesaler jobs and all the jobs at grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores and food stores. The total comes to 6.8 million jobs.

There are 9.6 million jobs in the restaurant business including fast food outlets, bars, and caterers. The total does not include food service workers at school cafeterias, hospitals, retail stores or ball parks, museums and other recreation facilities. Add them to the total and it comes to just over 11.3 million food service jobs.

Worse, jobs from the farm to the supermarket continue to decline due to productivity growth and imports in the global economy. Restaurants are the only part of the food chain Americans can count on for new jobs. You may like to go to restaurants; you may need to go to restaurants, but American needs jobs, so now you know, you must go to restaurants. It’s your civic duty to employ America. Go out often. Be kind; leave a cash tip for your waiter or waitress.

People worry about recessions and unemployment, but worry is a waste of time. Americans spend themselves into jobs doing things like gambling where gaming dealers and gaming service workers have some of the 183 thousand new gambling jobs since 1990. Many object to gambling for moral, ethical and social reasons. The objectors are being swept away in the clamor to find work. BLS reports nearly 426 thousand employed in gambling including casino hotels.

Gambling is part of the leisure and hospitality industry, which generated a little more than 1.1 million new jobs not counting the restaurants already mentioned. Include 278 thousand new jobs at amusement parks, arcades, golf courses, country clubs, ski hills, and marinas. Fitness centers have more jobs than all of gambling with employment now over 508 thousand and 233 thousand new jobs since 1990. Fat means jobs in diet and exercise, even though both can be do-it-yourself services. People can walk in the park or walk on a treadmill; one has jobs, one does not. People can eat less or buy pills, powders, supplements, diet books, diet plans, counseling and weight watchers. Health clubs and diet schemes support transactions where fitness and aerobics instructors exceed 220 thousand jobs across the country.

New spending in repair and maintenance services and personal and laundry service generated 433 thousand new jobs from 1990 to 2007. Personal services include barber shops, beauty shops, laundry and dry cleaning, parking lots, wedding planners and a few more, but let us notice services entitled pet care services, except veterinary.
Pet care jobs make up a new and growing source of jobs at pet stores and in pet care services but also for one particular professional job: veterinarian. Veterinary services added 166 thousand jobs with gains every single year since 1990. We might suppose with farmers declining that the bovine, equine and porcine trades are relatively small compared to the canine and feline trades in the veterinary services sub sector. The employment growth implies a growing concern among Americans for the health and welfare of their pets and that is a good thing. Still with millions of actual Americans without health care insurance we might worry that some household pets get better health care than our fellow citizens.

Pet store employment nearly doubled to 93 thousand and pet care services more than doubled to 52 thousand jobs by 2007. Pet care services include doggy parlors with people employed as doggy trainers, doggy trimmers and doggy bathers. My grandfather had dogs and cats. There is a dog or two in family photos from the turn of the century. Dogs lived, dogs died, but grandfather never hauled one to a parlor for a bath. It’s different now. America needs jobs; dogs need a bath.

Pet stores are part of wholesale and retail trade services where buying at the mall, stores, and on-line helped generate another 3.1 million jobs in the 1990 to 2007 period. Both wholesale and retail trade have growing employment but at growth rates below the rate for total employment, which causes a decreasing percentage of wholesale and retail jobs in total establishment jobs. Actually trade jobs are 21.5 million, but the percentage of total employment is down over a full percent since 1990. Using computer technology in trade, especially for barcodes and inventory management increases labor productivity. Retail and wholesale sales volumes per work hour are up and sometimes at rates comparable to productivity in manufacturing. So far on-line catalog shopping has only 247 thousand jobs, which is good because they will not need to hire many retail salespersons or cashiers, two jobs that currently employ 8 million.

To keep ourselves employed we must have steadily rising spending but in areas where labor productivity is not growing too fast. America cannot rely on new spending in agriculture, mining, or manufacturing to create jobs because the relentless tide of productivity growth and actions in the global economy restrict these jobs. It is not enough that other low productivity jobs increase; they have to increase faster than the national average in order to absorb the lost share of employment in agriculture, mining and manufacturing.

Instead of manufacturing we now rely on service jobs like Administrative Support services, which not only had the job growth mentioned above, but a rising share of national employment. Some of the 3.7 million new administrative support jobs include 1.45 million new jobs in temporary help services, and 564 thousand new jobs in professional employer organizations, jobs which help client firms to fine-tune employment with the ebb and tide of business. Count 386 thousand new jobs in landscaping services, 269 thousand new jobs in security guard companies and investigation services, 228 thousand new jobs in janitorial services, 127 thousand new jobs at telemarketing bureaus and telephone answering services. Include 89 thousand new jobs at collection agencies where employment more than doubled since 1990.

Those jobs went up while manufacturing employment went down by 3.8 million, but the manufacturing decline represents a drop of more than 5 percent in total establishment employment. Because administrative support has a higher share of America’s jobs, jobs like landscaping worker help replace manufacturing jobs like machinist. Restaurant jobs grow faster than the national average and so cook, waiter, and waitress replace manufacturing jobs.

Bail bonding, dating services, shoeshine services, escort services, and wedding planners had 16 thousand new jobs between 1990 and 2007. Even though these are a small number of jobs, the increase is a rising percentage of total jobs, which helps replace those lost manufacturing jobs.

Many of the new jobs are low paid but there are new jobs in the professions that pay good salaries. Legal services make up 233 thousand new jobs from 2.8 million new jobs in professional, scientific and technical services, where lawyers may represent clients in a personal bankruptcy. The fantastic growth of personal bankruptcies is well documented by Elizabeth Warren in her book the Two Income Trap. On the web site for U.S. courts they list 1,604,848 non business filings for bankruptcies for the 12 months ending June 2005.

Personal bankruptcies generate professional jobs at law firms, courts, and counseling offices, but every dollar at issue in a bankruptcy was a former expenditure, all of which created jobs. The bill for a lawyer’s services produced in a personal bankruptcy goes directly into the Gross Domestic Product. When Brian Williams, Charles Gibson, or Katie Couric come on with the evening news and report this quarter’s GDP up 3.1 percent, or whatever it happens to be, everyone knows that is a good thing. No long winded explanations or in depth reports are needed. More GDP means more jobs, more income, more profits.

In GDP accounting a dollar’s worth of personal bankruptcy counts the same as a dollar’s worth of car, or clothes or food. With manufactured goods we get things we can drive, things we can wear, things we can eat, but a reasonable person might see more personal bankruptcies as a bad thing. Bad or not, spending ourselves into jobs makes us rely on spending for things like personal bankruptcy, a specialty where a steady flow of jobs requires a steady flow of bankruptcies.

Lawyers make up a modest share of new professional employment compared to education. New education spending generated new government jobs at public schools and colleges and new jobs in private schools and colleges for a total of 3.9 million new jobs. Educational services sector has 5.6 million jobs requiring BA or higher degree training. That is more jobs needing college degree skills than any of law, medicine, accounting, engineering, architecture, or computer professionals.

We hear regular complaints about failing schools and the need for educational accountability in the popular media. The constant carping over failing schools gets tiresome for teachers. They hear the complaints from politicians and other worthies who have never set foot in a classroom, but the publicity helps justify more taxes, bigger school budgets, and tens of thousands of new jobs. Since the year 2000, BLS reports 473 thousand new jobs as educational administrators, school counselors, K-12 teachers, including 18 thousand more remedial teachers, 24 thousand more enrichment teachers, 33 thousand more special education teachers and 40 thousand more instructional coordinators. The growth is fast enough that teaching has a higher share of total employment with growth rates three to five times higher than population growth for children under 18.

National Center for Education Statistics reports the number of students per faculty averages just under 16 in America’s public schools. That number has dropped continuously since the 1960’s when it was 26. A reasonable person might think one teacher for 16 students means higher quality than the 1960’s when there was one teacher for 26 students, but better or worse complaining sure is good for jobs.

Back in the early part of the last century my grandfather worked as a dairy farmer. When he gave it up and retired he was still using a horse drawn plow, but it was around that time that wider use of steam tractors and other mechanized farm equipment began to dramatically raise farm productivity, lower farm prices and reduce the need for farmers. Rising productivity helped make labor available for the new jobs in manufacturing.

That was an age when more manufacturing meant more manufacturing jobs. That age has passed. Trouble is Americans still think about jobs the same way they did long ago. Everyone is supposed to get out in the free-for-all, rustle up some work and then live on the wage. Finding work in the American free-for-all will be easier the more American’s buy personal services.

BLS reports 63 thousand new jobs in depilatory, ear piercing, hair replacement, massage parlors, diet and weight loss reducing centers, permanent makeup salons, steam and Turkish baths, tanning salons and tattoo parlors. An efficient massage parlor needs a steady flow of customers so that labor is utilized doing a steady flow of massages. If no customers show up in the morning and the masseuse sits around until 2:00 in the afternoon waiting for clients, then massages per masseuse and massages per hour go way down and labor productivity with it.

Massage parlors are similar to barbershops, and beauty salons and a variety of personal services that tend to make inefficient use of labor, but they have several advantages for a society that must have jobs. The services cannot be imported, nor moved offshore in the global economy. The age-old difficulty in scheduling steady work continues unaffected by technological advancement so that labor will continue to be inefficient and support jobs. The well-to-do need to focus attention on personal services to create jobs. They need college consultants, piano lessons, personal trainers, spa sessions, dog walkers, cat sitters, charity balls, coach camps and live in personal aides or nannies, which are also known in the Standard Occupational Classifications as personal and home care aides. BLS reports 224,000 new personal and home care aides between 2000 and 2006, double the increase for engineers.

Personal services have only a small share of the inefficient jobs American needs. Americans have not yet acknowledged that finance in a digital world does not require paper: not for checks, not for bills, not for money. My money, your money, all money is nothing but computer code. Some Americans enjoy the convenience of on line banking from their home computer hooked up to a broadband connection. These are people comfortable having their money flying through the air. Not everybody feels so good about the efficient digital world; they want to drive to the bank and exchange paper with a teller. America now employs almost 608 thousand tellers. If Americans decide to be efficient, America will have fewer tellers, a lot fewer.

Tellers are part of the financial activities sector, where transactions in banking, lending, credit cards, stocks, bonds, insurance, and real estate generated 1.7 million new jobs between 1990 and 2007. There was a time long ago when borrowing and lending money was for railroads, utilities, factories and manufacturing. Loans played an important role in creating long-lived assets. Families borrowed, but mostly to buy houses.

Today’s banks are still happy to earn interest making these loans, the problem is banks have more loanable funds than they have industry and infra structure borrowers. In the last chapter of his recent book, The Age of Turbulence, former Federal Reserve Chair, Alan Greenspan writes “The slow down in innovation is particularly evident in the dramatic swing in corporation’s use of their internal cash flow from fixed investment to buybacks of company common stock and cash disbursed to shareholders in the process of implementing mergers and acquisitions.”
Banks and financial intermediaries like mergers and acquisitions and many consumer borrowers who buy now and pay later. Financial intermediaries cannot wait for borrowers so they advertise and promote consumer credit. Year by year Americans charge more and more consumer and retail transactions that generate a steady flow of merchant discounts, interest charges, fees, penalties and payments that support new jobs in the finance industry.

The tendency toward consumer credit shows up in the job data because deposit institutions, formerly known as banks, lost 86 thousand jobs since 1990 while non deposit institutions in credit card issuing, sales financing, consumer finance, loan companies, personal credit, student loans, home equity credit lending and a few more jumped 386 thousand almost doubling employment. Real estate credit with home equity credit lending was 110 thousand jobs in 1990 and 297 thousand in 2007.

The Bureau of Labor of Statistics reports 158 thousand new jobs as loan officers and counselors between the end of 1999 and May 2007 with just fewer than 100 thousand new jobs as loan interviewers in the same period. Both grow at rates 4 to 5 times the national average. These are some of America’s jobs that depend on American’s willingness to lead a life in debt. Many books and many articles describe buying and borrowing as national excess: a real addiction that implies weakness and lack of self-control. That view, among other things, ignores the employment it generates.
In an article in the Washington Post on May 7, 2007, entitled “Pressure at Mortgage Firm Led to Mass Approval of Bad Loans”, we learn that 20 percent of America’s mortgage loans are now risky “sub prime” loans. An official from the Mortgage Broker Association for Responsible Lending tells readers that loan officers and real estate appraisers are the “first line of defense” against bad loans. Very nice, very ethical, but if Americans actually curb their borrowing habits many of the above mentioned job holders will pay a visit to the unemployment office.

Publishing, broadcasting, telecommunications and the Internet have 341 thousand more jobs now than 1990, but there are ominous trends and job totals in these information sectors are down 600 thousand since 2000. Before the digital world, publishing, broadcasting and telephone companies operated in separate markets. In today’s digital world landline, wireless, and cable companies offer phone services as well as Internet and cable TV services using the same or similar equipment and technologies. People have a choice to get news and entertainment over broadcast networks, the Internet, newspapers, cable or their telephone.

Now that everybody is able and willing to get into everybody else’s business the future looks promising for developing new products and new innovations in information services. How these businesses will compete with each other continues to be a negotiation and mystery, but the low cost of providing service to the incremental customer and the ability of individual companies to offer multiple services through one network puts severe pressure on jobs.

Many are familiar with the website called What they do on Craigslist depends on your point of view, but I would call it self serve classified advertising, available free to all users, except three metropolitan areas that pay a token fee. There are message boards, chat rooms and some other appealing services, all free, but roughly speaking it is classified advertising by geographic area for the entire world and no charge.

When I first heard about Craigslist a few years back, they had an “about us” link where I learned they had 18 employees. Last time I looked they are up to 24. In the new digital world, we could have all the classified advertising anybody wants, anywhere in the world, with just 24 jobs.

Some newspapers have begun to eliminate stock prices from their daily business news. They cannot compete with the graphs, charts and continuously updating stock quotations available on the Internet. Some Americans, especially older Americans, want to maintain long held habits and prefer their stock quotes and their classifieds from newspapers, just as some even keep a Yellow Pages around the house, but the future of information will be electronic and the job trends will be down.

When it comes to finding a job, remember the government, the mighty engine of employment. Despite all the nasty and derogatory things said about government, its taxing, borrowing and spending generated just over 1.6 million new jobs in addition to those mentioned in education. Actually a monthly average of 22.2 million work in federal, state and local government including education, a higher share of total establishment employment than any private sector category.

The 1.6 million new jobs are for occupations in state and local government services like public health, social services and corrections as well as general and financial administration including taxes. When I look at the BLS national employment matrix under state and local government, I find the most important occupation with the highest percentage of state employment, after I subtract all the education jobs, happens to be correctional officer and jailor. It is the fifth leading job in local government. Combined with supervisory officers, correctional officers and jailers have more than 472 thousand jobs. State and local government also support another 94 thousand jobs as probation officers and correctional treatment specialists.

Some of government’s required services have administration through multiple bureaucracies of dedicated taxes and charges for workmen’s compensation, unemployment insurance, social security taxes, business franchise taxes, business equipment taxes, property taxes, utility taxes and a few more. Every new job in America helps bring action to bureaucracies of work and jobs in recording, filing, collecting and dispersing. There is no natural law that requires each little tax to go with each little service, but it sure is good for jobs. America needs jobs; America needs rigmarole.

America has the world leader in rigmarole jobs, which is America’s health care system with 6.1 million new jobs since 1990, a total that includes social services like counseling, social work and child care. Career employment in health care applies to the 47 occupations defined as health care practitioners. These are physician, nurse, therapist, technologist and technician jobs needing degrees and a license. People in these jobs actually deliver health care, but they make up 5.1 million jobs out of 15.4 million health care jobs. The other 10.3 million jobs are helper, office work and social work including childcare.

The childcare segment in health care has 461 thousand of the 6.1 million new jobs mentioned above. Back in the 1950’s when the labor force participation rate for women was under 40 percent, childcare tended to be the unrecorded and untaxed work of moms. Now two income households want commercial childcare. Establishment employment in child day care services averaged 388 thousand in 1990, but 849 thousand in 2007.

In other sectors of the economy, bills tend to be a two party transaction between a customer and a vender, but seldom so in health care. One illness or injury starts a billing shuffle through separate bureaucracies at hospitals, laboratories, clinics, HMO’s, PPO’s, IPO’s, but also private insurance companies, independent billing agencies and bureaucracies at Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, workmen’s compensation or the Veterans Administration. Medicare, Medicaid and workmen’s compensation are federal programs with federal bureaucracy, but also administered by the states through 50 separate bureaucracies.

More health care brings growth to health care jobs as financial clerks and information and records clerks, which are bill and account collectors, billing and posting clerks, bookkeepers, office clerks, receptionists, and secretaries, where health care office work and billing exceeds 2.5 million jobs, roughly six of these jobs for every doctor job.

Those are just the jobs in health care for people who send out the bills. It doesn’t count the insurance company or government bureaucracy jobs for the people who take them in. National health insurance could lead to standardization and efficiency with computerized billing. But we better be careful about efficiency because efficient health care will eliminate tens of thousands of jobs in office work and the paper shuffle. Advocates of national health care, beware.

Remember we are looking for 32 million new jobs from 1990 to 2007. I am keeping track of the arithmetic and so far we are up to 28.3 million new jobs, with about 3.7 million more to go. Count nearly 873 thousand new jobs in transportation and utilities with most of the increase in trucking and a new growth industry, warehousing and storage, but some losses in utility services. Add another 797 thousand new office jobs in religious and non-profit organizations. Add 128 thousand jobs for waste management and subtract 469 thousand job reductions in the federal government to account for all the service job changes from 1990 to 2007. Finally 2.35 million new construction jobs. Construction is the only non-service industry with more jobs but it does not make up for losses of manufacturing, agriculture, mining and utility jobs. There we have America’s 32 million new service jobs since 1990: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Toughing it Out

Americans continue to work like demons and spend like maniacs. Given the prevailing attitude toward work and jobs, there is no other choice. Everyone is expected to be productive and support themselves, no matter how good, or how bad the available jobs. The self-support requirement puts enormous pressure on individuals and families when productivity gains eliminate jobs at the same time a growing population and new immigrants put more and more people in the workforce.

The popular media likes to quote politicians and their critics who characterize some government programs as pork, or pork barrel spending. In America, one guy’s pork is another guy’s job and even though that has always been true, we are now a society where restaurants, gambling, pet care, landscaping, prisons, child care, and loans and credit cards support millions of jobs, but also a growing share of America’s work. These are the jobs we invent when efficiency reduces the need for labor in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, but more and more for jobs at utilities, information services, and finance. Maybe we should not call them pork, but they do not look like the high technology, high skills, advanced degree jobs advocates of the free-for-all predict for the future.

The jobs we invent are fewer than the jobs we preserve through old habits and practices. BLS reports 23.3 million office and administrative support jobs as clerks, secretaries, receptionists and bookkeepers. The total is holding steady since late 1999 in spite of digital technology and office automation. Customer Service Representative is also one of those administrative support occupations. It holds 8th place among America’s occupations with 2.2 million total jobs in nearly every sector of the economy, but especially in finance and insurance.

Customer Service Representative gets media attention because America’s corporations outsource some of this work to India and other countries. Many regard outsourcing as the action of ruthless corporate tycoons ripping the heart out of America, but allow me to suggest outsourcing is very much a domestic issue. Over 80 percent of Customer Service Representative jobs are reported for the country’s metropolitan areas, where millions commute by car and donate thousands of hours of their time using up gasoline and wearing out their cars so that others might work. Unlike production workers who must work at factories, customer service work can be anywhere with a computer and a telephone, as the companies themselves have so definitely proved. Doing computer work from home as telecommuters not only reduces jobs in the car industry, car repairs, gasoline, cement, and highway construction, but also for jobs in real estate, office rental, building maintenance, building repair and local government. Telecommuting could save business and society many costs; it will also eliminate many jobs.

Nobody knows for sure how many jobs go abroad to outsourcing because no one has anything but anecdotal data. At BLS they have a building full of people producing American data, but they do not produce data for jobs lost abroad. Individual businesses know their own situation, but as everyone producing data can tell you, business does not like sharing data with competitors, nor the inquiring public.
But why look abroad when there are so many ways for business and consumers alike to adopt new habits and new technologies to eliminate jobs and reduce work right here in America? Americans often think of their jobs as a personal achievement in a rough and tumble free-for-all of personal competition: a survival of the fittest.

Instead, our collective willingness to spend all our money as fast as we can, along with our collective willingness to invent new work and cling to old inefficiencies has kept the job mill going over the last 15 to 20 years, but it will get tougher. America needs some new attitudes and some new policies. It is time to rethink the full time work week, overtime pay, the minimum wage, union recognition, the payroll tax and health care tied to jobs among many job issues. But these are topics for another article.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Age of Turbulence

The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, Alan Greenspan (New York, The Penguin Press, 2007). 505 pages. $35.00

The Age of Turbulence begins with an introduction where Greenspan tells readers he is dividing the book into halves where “the first half is my effort to retrace the arc of my learning curve, and the second half is a more objective effort to use this as the foundation on which to erect a conceptual framework for understanding the new global economy.”

The first half has eleven chapters, or 231 pages, which are a chronological memoir. It starts at his start in 1926 and progresses eighty years to his retirement in January 2006.

The second half has 14 chapters, or 257 pages, that cover the global economy, first by discussing the universals of economic growth for use in a synopsis of countries: the United States, Europe generally, followed by Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and Australia. Longer separate chapter discussions cover China, the Asian Tigers including India, Russia, and Latin America. Following these there are seven more chapters covering global economic issues, although the discussion here relates toward the perspective of the United States. The two halves could be read as separate books: neither half needs the other.

In the memoir readers learn Mr. Greenspan’s depression era allowance: 25 cents. There are other nostalgic, but brief, memories of Manhattan in the 1930’s and 1940’s before getting to his professional career. We learn about his education and his early work at the Conference Board. We learn about Arthur Burns and Ann Rand and his invitation to join a New York investment firm that became Townsend-Greenspan.

In a few more pages we reach 1967 and his first step into public life. He joined the Nixon campaign. He resisted a position in government until 1974 when he agreed to be the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors. It was a Nixon appointment but he served only President Ford, leaving at the Carter inauguration.

The remaining material in the memoir amounts to an economic seminar of the era with personal analysis and reflection. Until his 1987 appointment as Federal Reserve Bank Chairman the discussion gives analysis and perspective as an outsider. As Fed Chair he describes his views and decisions as the policy maker.

Some politics and personalities are mixed in the economics seminar. Greenspan describes Richard Nixon as an extremely smart man who is sadly paranoid, misanthropic, and cynical.” For myself, I never met a sadly paranoid, misanthropic, cynical smart guy, but we can let that one go.

“Ford was a secure man, with fewer psychological hang-ups than almost anyone I’d ever met.” Bill Clinton and the Bushes get a sentence or two of Greenspan assessment.

Many economic issues introduced and discussed as part of the chronological memoir occur again as topics in the second half of the book. The virtues and benefits of free enterprise and capitalism appear frequently as Greenspan themes in the memoir but again sprinkled in the second half of the book. Country discussions compare property rights and free enterprise practices to economic performance. Repeatedly he concludes that free enterprise improves growth compared to central planning.

Readers may wonder, as I did, why there is so much attention given to free enterprise. Historians, economists, politicians consistently acknowledge that economic growth and innovation requires freedom for individuals to pursue their interests and take independent initiative. Individual initiatives need the enforceable property rights that go with free enterprise, but the matter is hardly controversial.

The attention to free enterprise contrasts with the inattention to distribution. He does mention “a large segment of society feels a growing sense of injustice about the allocation of capitalism’s rewards.” He returns to justice and injustice again at several places. On the last page of the book he writes “As awesomely productive as market capitalism has proved to be, its Achilles’ heel is a growing perception that its rewards, increasingly skewed to the skill, are not distributed justly.”

Trouble is he only mentions the problem, but never develops distribution issues. Tax policy is ignored. In 1975 personal income tax rates reached 70 percent; now it is 35 percent. Since he never mentions tax policy we don’t know if he believes the well-to-do should bear the same responsibilities to support their government now as they did in 1975.

Greenspan devotes many pages to financial investment and corporate finance. He tells readers “Abnormal returns in an essentially unregulated market generally reflect inefficiencies in the flow of the world’s saving into capital investment. Heavy purchases of those niche assets restore their pricing to “normal.” Although certainly not the objective of profit-seeking market participants, the resulting price adjustments, to paraphrase Adam Smith, benefits the world’s consumers.”

He argues that investing should be self regulating through “counterparty surveillance,” apparently a fancy term for “buyer beware.” He admits counterparty surveillants do not always do their counterparty surveillance. “A major failure of private counterparty surveillance was the near-collapse of Long Term Capital Management(LTCM), the 1998 financial train wreck … [LTCM] turned into gamblers, making large bets that had little to do with their original business plan. In 1998, LTCM lost its shirt.”

Few, if any, use the term “near-collapse” for LTCM, nor were the loss of shirts confined to LTCM. Several banks under his regulatory supervision made unsecured loans to LTCM as contributors to the above referenced gambling. He writes the episode shook the markets, but suggests the next collapse of a US hedge fund, Amaranth, caused “scarcely a tremor.” No mention of Margin Requirements; the term does not appears in the index of the book.

Finance issues are everywhere but other topics get covered in the mix. He takes up debts and deficits, long term interest rates, inflation, social security, Medicare, free trade, education and energy.

On jobs and education we get a repeat of his capital hill testimonies: “Get some training.” He admits that “income concentration has been rising since 1980.” An income inequality discussion goes on for eight pages when he announces “a very likely significant part of the explanation for recent developments appears to be the dysfunction of elementary and secondary education in the United States.”

The remaining pages in the chapter are a patronizing attack on American education to justify America’s income inequality. He refers to a skills-jobs mismatch for colleges and college students, but cites nothing of wages and jobs from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Survey, nor graduation by field of study from the National Center for Education Statistics that might support his view. Unlike other parts of the book that use data, here he refers to work by others such as “ an interesting paper” written by no one in particular at the Brookings Institution for the Hamilton project, whatever that might be since there is no citation. I found this chapter tiresome and useless.

On the long term energy squeeze there is a supply and demand discussion of oil, but also natural gas, coal, nuclear, and renewable energy. Discussion covers energy in the global economy with the potential for new technologies and how they might interact with supply and demand. For policy he suggests “significantly higher gasoline prices to wean us off gasoline-powered motor vehicles.” At the end of the energy chapter he writes: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” I thought wow. Tell us more, but that is all about oil and war.

The book is best when discussing the workings of the Federal Reserve Bank and monetary policy. Readers get Greenspan’s thinking on nearly 20 years of policy at the Federal Reserve. We hear about the economic variables he tracked and the positions he backed.

Otherwise the book is too long. There is too much repetition, especially the campaign to sell free enterprise and justify growth over any and all distribution issues. Big market failures tend to get Greenspan excuses. There are no footnote citations. A source name for data is often mentioned in the text, but not correct citations; a major flaw for a data book. Despite all of that, it is easy to sense a man with an admirable view of his public responsibilities as Federal Reserve Chair. That we like, but I finished the last page thinking here is a better man than his book.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Big Squeeze

Steven Greenhouse, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008). 303 pages, notes, bibliography. $25.95 USA

Some years ago I was talking with someone who worked for a large international corporation that did business all over the world. He named several countries as very troublesome, but mentioned one in particular, whose name shall remain anonymous, where making a phone call outside the country required walking across the street to another building to pay a bribe to an official in the phone exchange.

I recall saying, “That’s why they’re underdeveloped; they don’t understand the importance of honesty and integrity in economics and business. Reading Steven Greenhouse’s book The Big Squeeze reminds me of the story. Greenhouse uses the interview and case study method to write accounts of Americans by name who struggle to make a living in present day American labor markets. However, the common thread in the book amounts to a current review of America’s honesty and integrity. It is in decline.

The book has 16 chapters. Chapter one opens with brief profiles of six people in difficult and low paid jobs. The brief profiles are a lead-in to a thesis like statement:

"One of the most important trends taking place in the United States today is the broad decline in the status and treatment of American workers -white collar and blue collar workers, middle class and low end workers - that began nearly three decades ago, gradually gathered momentum, and hit with full force soon after the turn of the century."

The remaining pages of the first chapter has data and discussion that lets readers feel the squeeze on millions who work and earn wages, but decline in status and treatment.

In Chapter 2 we meet Kathy and read the book’s first story of status and treatment. As her story begins she has just left a job cleaning offices. The work is solitary, late at night and low pay. Friends and family suggest a local company where she becomes an inspector-packer at a plastic container manufacturing plant. On her first day her trainer and two new hires quit. In quick succession she is witness to accidents, cut off fingers, verbal abuse, and sexual harassment. She finds a new identity in resistance and tries union organizing as an advocate for worker rights. We share her triumphs and courage, but the story ends with disability, dismissal and no union.

Over the next 13 chapters we meet more people with stories to tell. There is Chuck with years working in a meat processing plant sold to wage cutting Tyson’s Foods. We meet Farris who works as the night shift manager at a Wal-Mart where he and his work crew are locked in because Wal-Mart assumes all their help steals merchandise. We meet Julia who takes a job at a store called Save Smart where they hand out small sums of cash and call them wages.

Some chapters highlight specific issues of work and pay. In a chapter titled, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, we meet Jean and Jennifer and learn about their lives as temp workers at Fed Ex and Hewlett Packard. In the chapter, Outsourced and Out of Luck, we go to Galesburg, Illinois and learn what happened when Maytag outsourced refrigerator production to Mexico. We hear about union organizing in Houston, Texas with the Service Employees International Union and their Justice for Janitors organizing campaign. There is a chapter on immigrants and their peculiar vulnerabilities and another on the difficulties of retiring at retirement age.

The book has two entire chapters and parts of three others devoted to Wal-Mart. We hear from several people including a former store manager and read a catalog of abuses heaped on employees. Some of the abuses have nicknames that encourage the impression they occur widely throughout Wal-Mart stores. Names and nicknames include end of shift lock-in, internal banishment, child labor, slashing schedules, overnight lock-ins, missed breaks, shaving time, hiring illegal immigrants and sex discrimination.

Readers who reach the last chapter may feel worn down. The decline of status and treatment of the American workers interviewed in the book reads in places like class warfare, as when Greenhouse quotes senior management at Tyson’s food. “Jefferson was in a luxurious position from our perspective. We’re not pleading poverty. We’re not saying the Jefferson facility is losing money. We’re saying cost in Jefferson is out of line and we have to make adjustments.” Luxurious factory work sounds like an oxymoron. Apparently Tyson managers expect people to accept a lower wage as it fits their notion of social class for their workforce.

The last chapter makes policy suggestions. The suggestions are all good ones for helping labor, but they require political influence that does not exist and has not existed for some time. Wage theft was mentioned in many of the interviews in the book. Store managers and supervisors delete hours worked from computerized time sheets, or demand someone to work off the clock, or demand work through scheduled breaks and on and on. The United States Wages and Hours Act and other labor laws specify minimum legal standards for work and pay that do not include stealing from employees. The failure to enforce the law by the Bush Administration has never been an oversight, but appears as a deliberate, and so far successful, political decision.

Greenhouse has hopes that unions and unionization can be more successful relieving the decline of status and treatment of the workforce. His discussion of the Justice for Janitors campaign is especially appropriate. Janitors are the type of workforce where unions need to concentrate their organizing. That is because they are among the lowest paid of the workforce. If unions can successfully raise wages at the bottom they have their best chance to push everyone up to higher wages. Raising wages at the bottom also gives the best chance to unify the workforce politically.

Serious political divisions exist in the workforce and the evidence shows up when millions of working class Americans do not vote, or vote for candidates without regard to their history of support for labor, including their own. For example, America’s personal income tax requires those who work for a living to pay higher tax rates on their wages than income earned as dividends from not working. This and other political attitudes debase work, but Greenhouse largely avoids these political issues or the problems that divide labor. Still we admire a well-organized and comprehensive review of current labor markets using interviews and case studies from people willing to go on the record. Perhaps the accounts in the book will bring more action and unity to American labor. It would help if more see the big picture in the Big Squeeze.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Three Billion Capitalists

Clyde Prestowitz, Three Billion New Capitalists: the Great Shift of Wealth and Power to the East, (New York: Basic Books, 2005). 278 pages

Three Billion New Capitalists tells the story of three billion new entrants into the global economy. The new entrants work mostly from China, India, Japan, Korea, and places that were formerly isolated, socialist strongholds that refused to open their economies and to trade. Not that many years ago it was Japanese cars and Japanese cameras that introduced Americans to imports and foreign trade. The introductory period has past. Three Billion New Capitalists tells us how far we have come and where we are going in the global economy.

The book has a brief prologue and 12 chapters. The opening chapter describes three waves of globalizing integration among national economies: 1415-1914, 1947-2000 and now. In the new wave, time and distance continue to compress and technology keeps spreading over the world at ever faster rates, but the United States keeps losing more and more manufacturing and a variety of services while running bigger and bigger trade and currency deficits. In chapter one, we learn America’s problems.

The heart of the book comes in Chapters 2 through 7. These chapters divide material by country, China, India, and so on, but all include discussion of the changing policies and efforts of foreign governments to build their economies by entering and trading in the global economy. Prestowitz sketches the transformation of China and India to saving, investing and exporting. He describes the evolution of Europe to economic union and the processes leading to NAFTA.

We are introduced to many people, some pioneering Americans, but especially foreign nationals who played key entrepreneurial roles developing specific products and processes in the global economy. The focus is on recent events and he uses a story telling narrative, including personal and family examples, as well as a mixture of data and documentation.

Meet Morris Chang whose family escaped mainland China in 1949 and came to America. He earned mechanical and electrical engineering degrees, including a doctorate at Stanford University, before working at Texas Instruments. It was there Mr. Chang had an idea to build a better and cheaper semi conductor using one big plant that could produce multiple products for different companies. He shopped the proposal and found the Taiwanese government eager to provide a package of incentives to attract ideas and investments like Mr. Chang.

Other stories of global investments in China, India and elsewhere include foreign government schemes to attract investments with cheap land, tax holidays, low utility rates, stable currencies, capital grants and cheap labor. Cheap labor is mentioned in the prologue and again on pages 59 and 75 where he writes “… for all practical purposes, the Chinese labor supply is endless.” It is a fact worth repeating.

Foreign government policy contrasts with today’s Democrats and Republicans who preach free trade and free markets and the good it will bring Americans. For those not devoted to the economist’s way, America’s losses sound like bad policy and it is here Mr. Prestowitz looks back at American attitudes in more practical times. We learn that IBM Corporation developed computer technology as part of a federal government contract to pay for the B-52 computer guidance system. We learn that Boeing started in 1916 with a federal government contract and continued to prosper with government contracts for WWII bombers and later the KC-135 military plane that doubled as the Boeing 707. We are reminded of the government’s role creating AT&T and Bell Labs.

The emphasis changes in Chapters 8 through 10 where topics cover specific issues rather than following countries and historical narrative. Chapter 8 discusses natural resources in the global economy, which primarily covers oil, agriculture and water. Chapter 9 covers the dollar and its role as a reserve currency in the international economy. Chapter 10 covers competition in the global economy: labor market and job issues especially. At this juncture Mr. Prestowitz makes a brave and audacious effort to explain theoretical economics to a general audience. The easy reading narrative of previous chapters breaks down somewhat amid nouns mostly known to economists, but his task is monumental so we sympathize and read on.

These three chapters have a common theme. America has specific problems with potentially serious economic and social consequences, but Americans and America’s politicians prefer to ignore them. Some of America’s current prosperity depends on foreigners who use dollars as a reserve currency. Still more of America’s prosperity depends on pricing oil in dollars. Some Americans in positions of influence believe that will go on indefinitely. Mr. Prestowitz is not one of them.

Chapter 11 makes an assessment and forecast for major countries in the global economy. China, Russia, India, Japan, Europe get most of the emphasis, but Brazil, Mexico and South America are mentioned. American prospects come at the end of the chapter. There is guarded optimism.

It is only fitting in a book that describes problems for the last chapter to offer solutions. Chapter 12 is the book’s policy chapter. Suggestions include a list of doing something to reduce energy use, increase savings, control government spending, especially social security and military spending, and reform taxes, health care, and education. Those are standard policy fare, but he also suggests promoting an international currency and several other strategies to reduce the use of the dollar as an international reserve currency. Otherwise the chapter is a plea for new attitudes and a realistic review of results.

Mr. Prestowitz does not try to hide his frustration with America’s practices and policies over the last 20 years. American politics has always paid homage to capitalism, an economic order that counsels waiting for self correcting improvements. In the past though, voters were less willing to wait out poor economic performance. In the present those of us with a practical outlook hope results will start to count more than they have been lately, but that is what Mr. Prestowitz’s book is really about.

Friday, April 18, 2008


A Career in Corrections

The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) manual of the Bureau of Labor Statistics has four jobs specialized to a career in corrections. These jobs are in addition to managerial, maintenance and institutional food service jobs that are found in many sectors of the economy. They are specialized to corrections because 96 to 99 percent of them are in state and local government. A career in corrections is also a career in government.

As of the May 2006 Occupational Survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 37.4 thousand first line supervisors of correctional officers, 417.8 thousand correctional officers and jailers, 17.9 thousand bailiffs, and 89.7 thousand probation officers and correctional treatment specialists. All have growing employment with more jobs than 2000. Only jobs in education and teaching outnumber corrections employment in state and local government, which is the second leading employment in state and local government.

Total employment in the four corrections jobs comes to 562.8 thousand jobs, but those are the jobs keeping and managing prisoners. There are more jobs getting them there. Police patrol officers, police detectives, criminal investigators, lawyers, judges, magistrates, hearing officers, counselors, and social workers. Prisons support work in the construction industry and sales of guns, bullets, vests, shields, helmets, batons.

These jobs depend on prisoners, which are in the millions and on the rise. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports prison data on their Website. Between 1980 and 2006 the prison population increased every single year at an average yearly rate of 6.11 percent, a 367 percent increase over the 26-year period. Add the prison population to the jail population and the total incarcerated is just over 2.26 million in 2006. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports 7.2 million Americans under correctional supervision, or 2.26 million in prisons and jails, 765 thousand on parole and 4.1 million on probation for 2004.

For the prison population to grow as it is the number sentenced and admitted must be bigger than the number released. But in the 1990’s the number released began increasing toward a half million a year. Undoubtedly some of those released already had a prison record, but a half million prison releases a year implies a rapid increase of people with a record, people who will need jobs. Those under correctional supervision already total 4.7 percent of the civilian workforce, but those on parole, probation or with a criminal record are rising rapidly and much more than 4.7 percent of the labor force.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job prospects in corrections will be excellent. They are forecasting the need to replace correctional officers who leave for other jobs or retirement and their expectation of rising employment demand are cited as the reasons. If past trends in both employment and prisoners, they are correct in their forecast.

Median salaries tend to be in the mid-thirties range, but with a long term commitment and perhaps advancement to supervisor salaries rise into the fifties. Probation officers have the highest salaries, but probation officers require a BA degree in social work, whereas high school skills with some corrections sponsored training is usually enough to get started.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that corrections work can be stressful and hazardous with job shifts day or night, weekday or weekend. Some prisons are well maintained, but they warn that some prisons are old, overcrowded, hot and noisy. Prisoners are not known for their amiability or good party manners.

A job is a requirement and America needs jobs, but an economy where manufacturing jobs decline month after month creates the possibility that attitudes toward prison terms are influenced by layoffs and the need for jobs. Reducing the prison population is doubly difficult because it means layoffs in prison employment, but former convicts need to have jobs as well.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Investing in Education

There are several ways to estimate returns on investments in education, or other types of investments for that matter. One way is to compare wages between jobs using general workforce skills with jobs that need college degree skills. Compare wages for a certified teacher with a college degree to wages for a teaching assistant, for example.

Another way converts college tuition and expenses into an estimate of a minimum wage or minimum salary increase that will make college a paying investment. The process requires interest calculations because money paid for college tuition and expenses could be used to buy stocks and bonds or other interest earning assets. Tuition and expenses amounts to an investment in a higher paying job, even though college students may want to go to college for other reasons.

Suppose in-state tuition at public college is $6,000 per year each year for four years. In some states like North Carolina, the state tuition is reported as $3,886, while in others like Michigan it is $7,115. Some are above, some below $6,000, but we let $6,000 be a representative tuition for 2007. In the first year $6,000 invested in stocks and bonds would earn interest or dividends. Similarly in the second year, except $12,000 would be invested and the second year earns interest or dividends on $12,000. At the end of four years at the time of graduation the principal invested and the interest earned is a total amount, which will equal $27,230.82 at 5 percent interest.

The principal amount of $27,230.82 earning 5 percent interest over the next 10 years and compounding monthly will be equal to $44,849.42. Start at graduation and $288.82 of extra income each month over the next 10 years using 5 percent interest will also be the same $44,848.63. The $288.82 equals the minimum extra monthly earnings necessary to pay for a college education at an interest rate of 5 percent. Using a forty-hour week and 160 hours a month it is less than $2.00 an hour of extra wage and salary that pays for college. Nothing is a guarantee but expect college to pay.

Our thanks for these calculations go to the built-in spreadsheet functions on MS Excel. Experiment yourself. Use the Excel help file under FV, which is the future value function. The spreadsheet entries above are =FV(.05/12,120,0,-27230.82,1) and =FV(.05/12,120,-288.82,0,0).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Returns to Education

Returns to a College Education

"Seven years of college down the drain."
-John Blutarsky

Mr. Blutarsky, as many will remember, offered the conclusion above to his Delta house frat brothers following their especially memorable meeting with Dean Wormer. The statement is correct. Anyone who attends college for seven years only to be expelled without a degree, and with Mr. Blutarsky's zero point zero GPA will not earn any return on their college investment. Otherwise though, expect college to pay.

Occasionally in the popular press there will be an article discussing the trials and troubles of college graduates in the market place. Someone's promising son with a BA degree in management science cannot find a job and after hundreds and hundreds of unsuccessful applications he takes a job with a gutter cleaning company. He cleans gutters. A quotation from the hang wringing parents usually includes "Our college investment was a waste. It's not like it was in the good old days."

Let’s not be too sure. Remember that graduation from college for the many who attend college right after high school implies entry into the labor force at age 22. The social security retirement age is 67 years. Congress and the country are expecting 45 years of work. One bad year does not assure ruination and a life hanging on the eves. If we can presume that a management science degree means a person with some skills and curiosity, it is quite possible that advancement to gutter crew supervisor and then perhaps gutter manager is in the future. Maybe college skills give him the ability to start a gutter cleaning firm and then a gutter cleaning franchise. Millions earned as a franchise tycoon could be the future, it is hard to tell because figuring an accurate investment return for 45 years requires knowledge of interest rates, inflation and future salaries. Past trends give some ability to know these things, but the key components can only be estimated over such a long period of time. It is better to focus on the near term, which usually gives the correct answer anyway.

There are several ways to estimate returns on investments in education, or other types of investments for that matter. The need for calculations of compound interest gives the impression that investment returns are precise and use only one procedure. However, there are different procedures, even though the actual arithmetic is always precise. Economists, for example, like to include the time in college as time away from work. If time in college is time away from work then lost or foregone wages as well as tuition payments will be a cost of college and included in calculations. Those less devoted to the economist’s way might wonder why time in college is time away from work. Many go to college and work. The time in college might come from leisure or free time instead of work. The matter is in doubt and depends partly on preference.

Despite the need for choice in computing educational return a few comparisons can give meaning and substance to the great American cry "Get some training." High school degree or GED skills are general workforce skills. Millions of America’s jobs need only on the job training and general workforce skills. If we look at wages for some of the jobs with general workforce skills and compare them to other positions requiring college degree skills we can make some easy comparisons.
Suppose a brokerage clerk earns the median wage reported for brokerage clerks, but wants to go to college to become a personal financial advisor. The median wage reported for brokerage clerks is $36,390; the median wage for personal financial advisors is $66,120. If the difference of annual income is more than a year of college tuition, expect college to pay.

Suppose a bookkeeper earns the median wage reported for bookkeepers, but wants to go to college and become an accountant. The median wage for bookkeeping is $30,560; the median wage for accountants and auditors is $54,630.
Suppose a teaching assistant earns the median wage reported for teaching assistants but wants to go to college to become a certified teacher. Teaching assistants earn a median salary of $20,740; certified public and private school teachers have a median wage of $45,000 to $47,000.

Check wages between civil engineers and civil engineering assistants, or architects and architectural and civil drafters, or physical therapists and physical therapists aides and so on. For the many jobs where annual wages jump more than a year’s tuition, compound interest calculations are not important.

Rather than comparing reported wages it is possible to convert college tuition and expenses into an estimate of a minimum wage or minimum salary increase that will make college a paying investment. The process requires interest calculations because money paid for college tuition and expenses could be used to buy stocks and bonds or other interest earning assets. Tuition and expenses amounts to an investment in a higher paying job, even though college students may want to go to college for other reasons.

Suppose in-state tuition at public college is $6,000 per year each year for four years. In some states like North Carolina, the state tuition is reported as $3,886, while in others like Michigan it is $7,115. Some are above, some below $6,000, but we let $6,000 be a representative tuition for 2007. In the first year $6,000 invested in stocks and bonds would earn interest or dividends. Similarly in the second year, except $12,000 would be invested and the second year earns interest or dividends on $12,000. At the end of four years at the time of graduation the principal invested and the interest earned is a total amount, which will equal $27,230.82 at 5 percent interest. Our thanks for the $27,230.82 total goes to the built in spreadsheet functions on MS Excel.

Suppose instead it is necessary to borrow the $6,000 each year to pay tuition. Not every one has $6,000 a year to invest in anything, much less a college education. Borrowing the money does not change the calculation unless interest rates differ between borrowing and investing. To have the college investment pay, a higher income stream from a higher paying job must be equal to, or greater than, monthly earnings on $27,230.82. If we presume the same 5 percent interest rate, then borrowing only changes $27,230.82 of equity investment into $27,230.82 of debt. Either way the college investment amount is $27,230.82 after four years.

The principal amount of $27,230.82 earning 5 percent interest over the next 10 years and compounding monthly will be equal to $44,849.42. Start at graduation and $288.82 of extra income each month over the next 10 years using 5 percent interest will also be the same $44,848.63. The $288.82 equals the minimum extra monthly earnings necessary to pay for a college education at an interest rate of 5 percent. A lower interest rate will lower the amount of necessary earnings; higher interest rate will raise the amount. Using a forty-hour week and 160 hours a month it is less than $2.00 an hour of extra wage and salary that pays for college. Experiment yourself. Use the Excel help file under FV, which stands for future value. The spreadsheet entries above are =FV(.05/12,120,0,-27230.82,1) and =FV(.05/12,120,-288.82,0,0).

The $288.82 a month could go up or down depending on a number of variables and there is some additional risk using debt to pay for college. There is a difference of risk between debt and equity financing college because there can be a delay in getting a better job. Delays leading to missed loan payments mean unpaid interest added to principal, making it quite possible to be overwhelmed with rising payments. This could be true even though a delay may not make the investment unprofitable over the long term.

Bad timing could ruin an otherwise paying investment, but even long delays getting a better job or periods of no additional earnings will probably not eliminate the financial advantage of a college degree. Maybe our management science major above waits 10 years to get a job with a raise. After 10 years he has nothing to compare against the $44,849.42 mentioned above. But suppose he lands the right job and makes extra income for the next twenty years. The $44,849.42 at 5 percent interest will be $121,660.74 after twenty more years, but extra earnings of just $295.98 a month for those same twenty years will equal $121,657.75. Any amount of additional earnings over $295.98 a month at 5 percent interest over those twenty years and college pays.

Suppose interest rates go from 5 to 10 percent in the example above where tuition was $6,000 per year. The same $6,000 per year for four years goes up to $30,975.84 from $27,230.82. The higher principal will increase much faster at 10 percent over the next 10 years and compounding monthly will be equal to $83,852.88 instead of $44,849.42. The minimum monthly wage and salary increase necessary to pay for college tuition at 10 percent over the next 10 years jumps to $409.34 per month instead of $288.82. Higher interest rates make college a less attractive investment, but millions of jobs open up to college graduates that will cover a salary increase of $409.34 a month for 10 years.

In the present circumstance of education, jobs and interest rates, the extra monthly earnings necessary to pay for college is low enough to expect college to pay. It is not a guarantee, but comparing current graduation with job growth and job openings further suggests that college graduates will earn at least the minimum salary increase to make college pay.

Baccalaureate degrees were 1.4 million for the year ending June 2005 with degrees up every year since 1994 when the baccalaureate total was 1.1 million. The Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey reports educational attainment for adults over age 25. Those employed with a BA degree or higher are up and although the increase has been fluctuating in recent years, the increase averages 1 million to 1.1 million a year in the years leading up to 2007.

The Current Population Survey counts people employed and not specifically their jobs. It does not tell us if the increase of people with new degrees also find jobs using college degree skills, only that they are finding jobs. Other surveys of the Bureau of Labor Statistics count jobs and occupations for establishments. Establishment jobs ended the calendar year 2005 with 2.3 million more jobs than 2004, but we should expect new graduates to be looking for new jobs using their college degree skills. There is help in counting the jobs using college degree skills because the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a skills taxonomy that gives a clear assessment of the jobs that need college degree skills, along with those that do not. In 2004, establishment jobs with a Bureau of Labor Statistics skills classification needing a BA degree, masters, doctorate, or professional degree came to 26.4 million. The number of college degree jobs increased an average of 950 thousand for the years from 2004 to 2006, when the new total is 28.3 million.

If you are paying close attention, you noticed new degrees outnumber new jobs using college degree skills, but chances for a new job improve the more current job holders leave the workforce to retire or for other reason. People who retire need to be replaced before there can be growth. Replacing people in addition to job growth is defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as job openings. Openings in any occupation that has job growth will be greater than job growth. If jobs are declining, openings will be limited to replacement jobs, but otherwise openings are greater than job growth. Openings for jobs using college degree skills are forecast by BLS to increase at 1.2 million a year through 2016.

Even though college graduates are increasing faster than jobs and openings in the Bureau of Labor Statistics college degree categories, the difference is modest. However, it is not necessary to have a job using college degree skills to make college pay. Moving from a job as bookkeeper to an accountant with a college degree makes it easy to establish cause and effect for higher pay and a college degree. That is important because making college pay depends on a higher wage because of a college degree. Often it is easy to establish cause and effect like the bookkeeper who becomes an accountant, but not always.

Sometimes people with college degrees take jobs that do not need college degree skills. Employers might prefer people with college degrees even though they might be over qualified for the work. They might pay someone with a college degree more than a high school graduate in the same job. Cause and effect is hard to establish, but it would be necessary to have a college graduate in a high school job and earning no more than high school graduates if college does not pay. Making college pay is a financial matter, not a matter of job title or status. As of 2007, the financial evidence is clear enough to predict college will pay.