The best place to find out what is really happening in jobs

The core of the labor force is weakening; baby boomers are working longer – via Calculated Risk

Whenever I want the inside skinny on the jobs numbers, I turn to the Calculated Risk blog. No one can beat Bill McBride for his clear, steady tone (even when it felt as if the world was ending) or for his command of the numbers.  And the charts are to die for.

The labor force numbers released last Friday for March were surprisingly weak — only 88,000 new jobs were added to the nonfarm payrolls, less than half the number predicted. The unemployment number edged down to 7.6%, but only because so many people gave up looking for work.

The participation rate in the labor force has been a major topic of debate over the past few years. Baby boomers are retiring, which would naturally reduce what is known as the participation rate in the labor force. There are other factors of well — both bad and not so bad.

Let me share with you what Bill McBride sees:

  • Fewer 16- to 24-year-olds are in the labor force because they are going to school more. That’ should be a plus for the economy.
  • The number of 25- to 54-year-olds is declining — a negative. Those are the prime working and saving years. The downtrend is a function of the recession and structural changes in the economy. (See chart on left; click on the graphic to enlarge.)
  • More oldsters are working longer (some say so they can keep their health benefits). But there aren’t enough of this cohort hanging in to boost the overall participation rate.

For more details, go read the Calculated Rate blog post here. Eye opening.

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EconoBriefs: Modest Main St vs Brazen Bankers

EconoBriefs: Simple things, simple joys

EconoBriefs: Simple things, simple joys

Modest economic improvement and big hopes for recovery have come to dominant the headlines over the last few weeks. At least on Main Street, modesty has come to supplant exuberance; on Wall Street brazenness still rules — those wacky bankers are up to no good with their friends at the credit rating agencies and the Countrywide Mortgage trio slapped with civil crimes seem shocked that the SEC has accused them of fraud. According to the No. 1 purveyors of liar loans, Bernie Madoff is actually to blame for the suit. Not the lending practices at Countrywide.  No kidding.

Here are a few EconoBriefs that capture that shift in mood and action:

Micro-homes replace MacMansions: Modesty on Main Street gives a boost to the micro-house industry. Continental Magazine reports in “The Next Little Thing” about people happily living in homes as small as 140 square feet – about the size of a jail cell:

“The micro-housing trend, once decidedly on the fringes, has hit the mainstream, in part because of the economic downturn. People are looking for ways to live more efficiently, whether that means lowering their utility bills or spending less time vacuuming – just two of the advantages of living in a smaller house?”

Micro-Art to fit your micro home: Smaller home, smaller budgets – and a lot less wall space. How to decorate? Modestly. New York-based artist David Stern recognized the shift in demand early on and has temporarily set aside producing his monumental paintings. His new ink drawing series, “100 Simple Things,” captures the shift in both taste and pocketbooks. At $500 each, the nine-inch by seven-inch framed artworks draw our attention to the beauty and joy everyday objects can bring to our lives.

You can see the originals at Messineo Art Projects/Wyman Contemporary  in New York City through July 16 or you can download an iPhone application and enjoy the simple things in life for free.

A bowl of brazenness – rating agencies will be rating agencies: As most Americans scale down (to wit, the rising savings rate), Wall Street and policymakers sup on a bowl of brazenness. Bloomberg reports that brokerage firms are once again engaging in their favorite pastime: Shopping for superior credit ratings on new asset offerings to be subsidized by the US taxpayer. The credit rating agencies apparently can’t resist catering to their biggest and best customers. Regular readers of this blog already know how I feel about the credit rating agencies and look forward to new rules that would make the agencies more accountable.

Will Countrywide top brass sample micro-housing? Eliot Ness couldn’t get Al Capone for murder, but instead snared him with tax evasion charges. Similarly, the SEC couldn’t nab former Countrywide Mortgage CEO Angelo Mozilo and his capos for booby-trapping the economy, but fraud will do nicely.

The SEC plans on hanging the execs with their own words – emails in which they describe the toxic nature of their sub-prime lending products. Those products enriched the execs at the expense of their customers and the economy. Criminal charges are in the works, which means that Mozilo etal may be getting a taste of some micro-housing soon.

Image via David Stern