Post Tagged with: "recession"

Time Wars

Time Wars

Mark Fisher describes the contemporary economy and the precarity it involves as a “Time War” in which more and more work of our time is dedicated to work:

To understand the time-crisis, we only have to compare the current situation with the height of punk and post-punk in the UK and the US. It’s no accident that the efflorescence of punk and post-punk culture happened at a time when cheap and squatted property was available in London and New York. Now, simply to afford to pay rent in either city entails giving up most of your time and energy to work. The delirious rise in property prices over the last twenty years is probably the single most important cause of cultural conservatism in the UK and the US. In the UK, much of the infrastructure which indirectly supported cultural production has been systematically dismantled by successive neoliberal governments. Most of the innovations in British popular music which happened between the 60s and the 90s would have been unthinkable without the indirect funding provided by social housing, unemployment benefit and student grants.

Full Story: Gonzo Circus: Exclusive essay ‘Time-wars’ by Mark Fisher

(via Bruce Sterling)

See also: Radical Atheism

January 18, 2013 1 comment
Nation’s Lower Class At Least Grateful It Not Part Of Nation’s Middle Class

Nation’s Lower Class At Least Grateful It Not Part Of Nation’s Middle Class

From The Onion:

The survey found nearly 87 percent of the nation’s lowest earners take comfort knowing they are far enough down the economic chain that their children and grandchildren won’t possibly be able to live in circumstances any worse than their own, while 65 percent noted they have enough bills to worry about without the additional middle-class burden of making student loan payments or contributions toward a retirement plan that will probably go bust in the next market crash, anyway.

In addition, half of all destitute Americans said that while they lack medical coverage, at least they aren’t stuck paying increasingly high premiums for an increasingly terrible health insurance plan. And nearly all survey participants agreed they are grateful not to be trapped chasing “some sort of fantasy dream life” of middle-class American prosperity that no one in the year 2012 can ever possibly attain.

The Onion: Nation’s Lower Class At Least Grateful It Not Part Of Nation’s Middle Class

(via Andrew McAfee)

August 2, 2012 1 comment
Academia vs. the Private Sector for Science Jobs

Academia vs. the Private Sector for Science Jobs

I write often about the need for more STEM education in order to match graduates with actual jobs, but the reality is that the “S” part of the acronym doesn’t necessarily have a lot of openings. At least not in academia. Julianne Dalcanton writes:

Recent reports and articles have generated a lot of buzz about the difficulty of finding employment in the sciences. These articles mirror the anxieties of the young astronomy community with whom I am most familiar. Scientists are not stupid and are pretty good with data, so they can look at the number of graduate students, the number of postdoctoral positions, and the number of faculty ads, and correctly assess that the odds of winding up with a long-term academic position are not good.

However, difficulty finding a “long term academic position” is not the same thing as difficulty finding a job. Buried in those same articles is the fact that the unemployment rate for physicists (which likely mirrors that of astronomers) is between 1-2%. In contrast, the lab-based biologists and chemists (which are the focus of the articles) are not finding employment at all, or if they do, it’s frequently in a position that makes no use of their technical skills.

Cosmic Variance: Subtleties of the Crappy Job Market for Scientists

In other words, science graduates are facing many of the same problems that Phds in the humanities face. Dalcanton goes on to note that many physics and astronomy majors are finding lucartive careers in the private sector, paritcularly in the technology industry. Ashlee Vance wrote about this phenomena for Business Week last year. I agree that it’s sad that so many smart people are ending up devoting their careers to figuring out how to get people to click ads, but as I wrote last year there’s an interesting upside: lots and lots of open source big data tools.

Earlier this year David Graeber wrote about why science and technology seemed stalled compared to our science fictional imaginations and quotes astrophysicist Jonathan Katz:

You will spend your time writing proposals rather than doing research. Worse, because your proposals are judged by your competitors, you cannot follow your curiosity, but must spend your effort and talents on anticipating and deflecting criticism rather than on solving the important scientific problems… It is proverbial that original ideas are the kiss of death for a proposal, because they have not yet been proved to work.

In other words, you might be better off in the private sector wrangling click stream data than you would be grinding out proposals to do essentially nothing in academia. Le sigh.

July 13, 2012 0 comments
Black Market for Body Parts Spreads Among the Poor in Europe

Black Market for Body Parts Spreads Among the Poor in Europe

The New York Times reports:

Facing grinding poverty, some Europeans are seeking to sell their kidneys, lungs, bone marrow or corneas, experts say. This phenomenon is relatively new in Serbia, a nation that has been battered by war and is grappling with the financial crisis that has swept the Continent. The spread of illegal organ sales into Europe, where they are gaining momentum, has been abetted by the Internet, a global shortage of organs for transplants and, in some cases, unscrupulous traffickers ready to exploit the economic misery.

In Spain, Italy, Greece and Russia, advertisements by people peddling organs — as well as hair, sperm and breast milk — have turned up on the Internet, with asking prices for lungs as high as $250,000. In late May, the Israeli police detained 10 members of an international crime ring suspected of organ trafficking in Europe, European Union law enforcement officials said. The officials said the suspects had targeted impoverished people in Moldova, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Full Story: New York Times: Black Market for Body Parts Spreads Among the Poor in Europe

July 5, 2012 0 comments
Even (Relatively) Low-Skilled Jobs Are Going Unfilled

Even (Relatively) Low-Skilled Jobs Are Going Unfilled

The New York Times reports:

“Companies all over are having a difficult time recruiting the kind of people they’re looking for,” said Robert Funk, chairman and chief executive of Express Employment Professionals, a national staffing firm based in Oklahoma City that helped some 335,000 people land jobs last year. “We currently have 18,000 open job orders we can’t fill.”

But why the difficulties? We keep hearing about high skilled, high tech positions like computer programming and petroleum engineering going unfilled, but how could it be that more “humdrum” jobs aren’t getting filled? Later paragraphs in the story give us some clues.

Although the people quoted blame the shortage of truck drivers on the fact that it’s unglamorous and you have to pass a drug test, I think these details give us a pretty big clue:

That challenge is magnified because insurance companies typically require drivers to have up to two years of experience driving a truck before they will cover them, Mr. Hoag said. While larger companies can afford to train drivers, Mr. Hoag said he relied on Craigslist and a Minneapolis recruiter to find them — but the recruiter, he said, “is struggling to find people, too.”

How are people supposed to get two years of experience if no one will insure them without two years of experience? How do employers expect to find “qualified” truckers if they’re not willing to spend money on training? Trucking is a lonely, often miserable job but I’m sure there are millions of unemployed Americans who can pass a drug test and would love the opportunity to support their families on a trucker’s wage.

There’s apparently a shortage of machine operators as well:

Mr. Greenblatt currently has five openings for machine operators, positions that don’t require college degrees but pay, on average, about $60,000. What candidates do need are skills like the ability to operate a computer, read a blueprint and use a caliper. [...]

“My operators are in constant contact with our customers, so they need to be able to articulate through e-mail,” Mr. Greenblatt said. “But you’d be surprised at how many people can’t do that. I can’t have them e-mailing Boeing or Pfizer if their grammar is terrible.”

You can chalk some of this up to writing, even if it’s just e-mail, being really hard. But this is an indictment of the education system. Why do we have so few people who can respond to customer e-mails?

Full Story:The New York Times: A Sea of Job-Seekers, but Some Companies Aren’t Getting Any Bites

5 Careers Expected to Have Shortages in the Next Decade

June 29, 2012 6 comments
5 Careers Expected to Have Shortages in the Next Decade

5 Careers Expected to Have Shortages in the Next Decade

For a report titled “An economy that works: Job creation and America’s future,” McKinsey Global Instititute conducted research that included sector analysis, interviews with human resource executives, a survey of business leaders and the firm’s own scenario analysis and modeling.

According to McKinsey, the U.S would need to create 21 million new jobs to put unemployed Americans back to work and employ a growing population. Only the most optimistic scenario shows a return to full employment before 2020. The report notes, as others have, that the length of recovery after each recession since WWII gets longer and longer.

Also, according to the report, “too few Americans who attend college and vocational schools choose fields of study that will give them the specific skills that employers are seeking.” McKinsey cited a few specific vocations that, based on its interviews, employers expect to have more vacancies than they can fill. Here are the five professions mentioned in the report, along with some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (I have no idea what sort of track record the BLS has for its projections, so be warned).

Nutritionists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook entry on Dietitians and Nutritionists:

2010 Median Pay: $53,250 per year or $25.60 per hour

Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree (along with state certification)

Job Outlook, 2010-20: 20% (Faster than average)

According to the Wikipedia nutritionist entry:

Some use the terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist” as basically interchangeable. However in many countries and jurisdictions, the title “nutritionist” is not subject to professional regulation; any person may call themselves a nutrition expert even if they are wholly self-taught.[2] In most US states, parts of Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, the term nutritionist is not legally protected, whereas the title of dietitian can be used only by those who have met specified professional requirements. One career counselor attempting to describe the difference between the two professions to Canadian students suggested “all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.”

According to the Wikipedia dietitian entry:

Besides academic education, dietitians must complete at least 1200 hours of practical, supervised experience through an accredited program before they can sit for the registration examination. In a coordinated program, students acquire internship hours concurrently with their coursework. In a didactic program, these hours are obtained through a dietetic internship that is completed after obtaining a degree.

Welders

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook entry on Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers:

2010 Media pay: $35,450 per year or $17.04 per hour.

Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent (“Training ranges from a few weeks of school or on-the-job training for low-skilled positions to several years of combined school and on-the-job training for highly skilled jobs.”)

Job Outlook, 2010-2020: 15% (About average)

Nurse’s aides

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook entry for Nursing Aides, Orderlies, and Attendants:

2010 Median Pay: $24,010 per year or $11.54 per hour.

Entry-level education: Postsecondary non-degree award

Job outlook 2010-20: 20% (Faster than average)

Nuclear technicians

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear production. They operate special equipment used in these activities and monitor the levels of radiation that are produced.”

2010 Median Pay: $68,090 per year, $32.73 per hour.

Entry-level education: Associate’s degree (plus extensive on the job training)

Job Outlook, 2010-20: 14% (About as fast as average)

Computer specialists and engineers

This is obviously a giant bucket that includes a wide range of jobs. I don’t know much about traditional engineering fields like civil or mechanical engineering, but computer tech changes quick. People with the right skills can command high salaries, but people with outdated skills can be unemployed for years at a time. My colleague Alex Williams recently wrote about which tech skills are growing fastest (hint: mobile application development is huge).

April 12, 2012 1 comment
Alternative Currency Thriving in Greece

Alternative Currency Thriving in Greece

Yet another example of alternative currency thriving in a collapsed economy:

What rules the system has are designed to ensure the tems continue “to circulate, and work hard as a currency”, said Christos Pappionannou, a mechanical engineer who runs the network’s website using open-source software.

No one may hold more than 1,200 tems in the account “so people don’t start hoarding; once you reach the top limit you have to start using them.”

And no one may owe more than 300, so people “can’t get into debt, and have to start offering something”.

Businesses that are part of the network are allowed to do transactions partly in tems, and partly in euros; most offer a 50/50 part-exchange.

“We recognise that they have their fixed costs, they have to pay a rent and bills in euros,” said Pappionannou. “You could say that their ‘profit’ might be taken in Tems, to be reinvested in the network.”

Choupis said she thought the network would have grown even faster that it has if people were not so “frozen, in a state of fear. It’s like they’ve been hit over the head with a brick; they’re dizzy. And they’re cautious; they’re still thinking: ‘I need euros, how am I going to pay my bills?’ But as soon as people see how much they can do without money, they’re convinced.”

The Guardian: Greece on the breadline: cashless currency takes off

(via Brainsturbator)

The real question is not whether these types of systems work during times of economic crisis, but how they can persist once organizations like the World Bank step in to “restore order.”

See also: The New Currency War.

March 19, 2012 3 comments
Tent Cities Still Spreading Across the U.S.

Tent Cities Still Spreading Across the U.S.

Here in Portland we’ve had a squatter settlement called Dignity Village since long before the financial crisis in 2008. It was joined by a new downtown settlement last year. But I haven’t been hearing much about the tent cities that have sprung up in Sacramento and elsewhere since 2008.

The BBC confirms that not only have these not gone away, but they have actually been growing:

Tent cities have sprung up in and around at least 55 American cities – they represent the bleak reality of America’s poverty crisis.

According to census data, 47 million Americans now live below the poverty line – the most in half a century – fuelled by several years of high unemployment.

One of the largest tented camps is in Florida and is now home to around 300 people. Others have sprung up in New Jersey and Portland.

BBC: America’s homeless resort to tent cities

(via Acrylicist)

February 13, 2012 1 comment
Do Entrepreneurs Really Create Jobs?

Do Entrepreneurs Really Create Jobs?

Barry Ritholtz has an iconoclastic take on entrepreneurs and job creation:

BI is a digital media property. The print industry (aka dead trees) has been fighting a losing battle versus online competition for years. The print news industry itself is shrinking, while the online industry is growing — but online’s gains are not nearly as large as offline’s losses.

Those 75 jobs Henry mentioned? Twenty-five years ago, they would have been 250 jobs at various newspapers and magazines. Writers, copy editors, artists, printers (Humans, not HPs), etc. The enormous gains in productivity allow far fewer people to do the work formerly employing far more people. This is the inevitable path of technology. Ever since the first human sharpened a stick to hunt, that curve has been the accomplishment of more production with fewer people.

What entrepreneurs actually do is facilitate moving workers from one firm to another — from the less productive business model to the more productive one — as they battle it out in the marketplace.

Economonitor: On Job Creation, Creative Destruction and Technology

(Note: It sounds from Ritholtz’s piece that Blodget is claiming that BI created jobs, but Blodget actually does not claim this. The original piece is here)

I do think that in some cases entrepreneurs create economic opportunity where none existed before – this would especially seem to be the case in the “shadow economy” that thrives in squatter settlements all over the world. But many enterprises now are in the business of destroying jobs through technology. Many more jobs now exist for computer programmers. I benefit from the IT revolution as a journalist in that I rather doubt there would be nearly as many people employed as technology journalists otherwise. But the companies that employ these people, the companies that I cover, are upending entire industries, such as legal services and travel agencies.

In the past we could assume the luddite fallacy was indeed a fallacy. However, reading Race Against the Machine or Slate’s Robot Invasion series it appears that concept may soon need to be renamed the luddite principle.

It doesn’t matter when you were born, we’re all a part of generation sell now. But are we about to turn a corner?

December 19, 2011 2 comments
3 Reads on the Financial Industry

3 Reads on the Financial Industry

Wall Street Unoccupied as 200,000 Job Cuts Bring ‘Darkest Days’. Schadenfreude, especially considering:

The 1% are the very best destroyers of wealth the world has ever seen

Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion Undisclosed to Congress

But the level of dislocation is disconcerting, especially as it continues to demonstrate how jobless this “recovery”" really is – even the bankers are out of work.

November 30, 2011 0 comments