Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Wondering about American employment

Recently, I was talking to an Australian businessman (a high level corporate manager type in supermarket retail) who had taken on a job for a (I think Southern State based) US supermarket chain for a few years.   He was based in Florida, but had travelled a lot with the job.

You may well think that Australia goes too far with its workers' rights (I do, having recently only realised that a worker can have unpaid sick leave of up to 3 months before they can be fired for, well,  never being at work) - but it is pretty incredible to hear about how draconian the work conditions in a Red state in the US can be.   Absolutely minimal leave (I think, 5 days p.a. for any reason?) for the first few years (with consequences such as a mother being at work the afternoon after her son's funeral);  the low, low, low minimum wage (with no chance of top up from customers, as with tipping in the hospitality industry);  a significant number of workers aged over 80 simply to keep health insurance cover; and 18 year old shelf stackers wearing pistols at work, which makes an Australian feel a touch nervous given the number of times you read of workers who "go postal".

Given this, it does make me wonder whether "full employment" in the US is all that it's cracked up to be compared to a country with strong work and pay standards such as Australia.  I mean, surely a significant percentage of those in the US could be the working poor.

But, I was surprised to read this column a couple of days ago in the WAPO by Robert Samuelson:  Why the economy is roaring.

He makes the obvious point - things were headed this way under Obama, and it's ridiculous and partisan blindness to claim Trump is solely responsible.

But what was more interesting was survey results regarding satisfaction with their lot:
“Nearly three-quarters of adults say they are either living comfortably (33 percent) or doing OK (40 percent), when asked to describe how they are managing financially,” the report says. The share “doing OK” has risen more than 10 percentage points since 2013. Similarly, in 2013, 13 percent of Americans found it “difficult to get by”; by 2017, the comparable figure was only 7 percent.

Labor markets are tighter. In 2017, 52 percent of workers received a wage increase, up from 46 percent in 2016. Gains were especially large for workers with a high school degree or less; 49 percent of these workers got a raise, up from 38 percent in 2016. Although many indicators of economic well-being were lower for blacks and Hispanics compared with whites, they were much higher than in 2013.
I am really curious about the 40% figure for "doing OK".   Does this reflect innate US optimism about their lot in life and/or potential for upwards social mobility, or is it more a case of substantial ignorance about how good the social safety net is in more centrist political countries like Australia, Canada, and most of Europe?

I mean, other parts of the survey indicate there is something a bit odd about the "doing OK" category:
About 40 percent of adults say they would have trouble meeting a $400 emergency expense; however, the share was 50 percent in 2013.   
So, about 25% are not financially "comfortable" or "doing OK", but a further 15% who are presumably in the "doing OK" category would have trouble finding a spare $400 for an emergency?

This points to somewhat lower standards to what "doing OK" might mean, surely.

Americans might be feeling pretty good about the economy for the moment, but to an outsider, their judgement about such matters seems peculiarly, well, American.

1 comment:

not trampis said...

for the technically minded there would be a structural break in the series. There isn't.