Friday, August 3, 2018

The workforce is doing well

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) today released its “Employment Situation Report” for July, 2018.   It is a very positive report that continues to reflect an improved workforce environment.
Workforce health is related to the overall health of the economy: Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reportedly increased 4.1% in the second quarter of this year – a high growth rate;   measures of business and consumer confidence are high;  wages may finally be rising in a tight labor market;  inflation is holding at about 2%; the stock market remains at very high levels.

As the economy expands workforce health improves.  The economy not only produces more jobs and maintains a low overall unemployment rate, but also moves workers who were trapped in part time jobs to full time.  It pulls millions who were considered no longer part of the workforce back to rewarding jobs.   Secondary effects are also observed – SNAP (aka Food Stamps) enrollment is declining and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) applications continue a steep decline.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) official unemployment rate (BLS U-3) dropped below 3.8% in April and remains in record territory at 3.9% in July. 
Black unemployment dropped to a historically low 5.9% in April. Though it remains historically low it has increased suddenly to 6.6% in July without any explanation from BLS.  As important, the delta (or gap) between White and Black unemployment as reported by the BLS is shrinking to historically low levels.  Hispanic unemployment is at a record low of 4.5%. 

An alternative BLS statistic (U-6) that measures people marginally connected to the economy or in part time work (and may be the best indicator of workforce health) who want full time jobs has also improved dramatically.   For the first time in nearly two decades U-6 has slipped under 8% and is in July 7.5%.  At the peak of the 2009 economic collapse the delta between U-3 and U-6 was 7% points.  Today that delta is 3.6%.

These exceptionally bright unemployment numbers get even better.

The Labor Force Participation Rate is a measure of the percentage of Americans 16 and older who are working or looking for work.   That rate is currently stable at 62.9% with a record 155,965,000 people employed.

This is highly significant because it defies what was an accepted inevitability of a downward trend in labor participation.   The BLS had projected the Labor Participation Rate would be 62% at present and decline below 61.5% by 2022.  Demographics trends (e.g. Baby Boomers leaving the workforce) were the basis for such projections.

What does that difference of .9% between what BLS projected and what it actually is at present mean:  nearly 3 million people that were not expected even to be interested in working are now active in the labor force.

These labor statistics reflect an employment market that is beneficial to both the top and bottom of the employment ladder.  Graduating college students in 2018 have better prospects than they have had in a decade.  Non-college graduates too have opportunities in construction, labor and other areas.  For example, housing starts are down in part because construction companies are having difficulty finding labor.

These trends are reflective generally of an economy that has 6.7 million job openings and only 6.4 million workers available.   There are more jobs than people to fill them.  As a result, some companies are reaching out to traditionally undesirable prospects such as people with criminal records.  Other companies are providing for addiction treatment for employees to retain them.

Wage stagnation has been a continuing issue since the 2009 downturn.   Finally, wages are beginning to rise in the tight labor market – wages and salaries rose 2.8% in the past year according to the Labor Department.

There are secondary impacts to increased employment.  SNAP (Food Stamps) enrollment is down from 43.6 million in October 2016 to 39.6 million at present.  It reached a high in 2014 of over 46 million.  The number of Social Security Disability Income recipients has declined by nearly 500,000 from what was a sustained level between 2012-2016 of just under 9 million.   New applications at SS offices are down nearly 50% since 2009.

By most every measure, the economy is booming and the workforce is benefiting.  That is a fact. Everyone should celebrate.  

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Constitutional Education Opportunity – Kavanaugh Confirmation

The impending confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court promise once again to be an education bonanza for the American people – as long as Senators do not muck it up with too much partisan bickering.

The Supreme Court history can be broken down, according to Cass R. Sunstein’s “Unanimity and Disagreement on the Supreme Court” into two periods: 1800-1941 and 1941 to present.  The earlier period was one of great harmony with a very high rate of unanimous decisions and almost no dissenting opinions.  After 1941 there was a major shift to a Court that was less based on consensus and more like “nine separate law offices.”  Consenting opinions, dissents, and 5-4 decisions were far more common.

Sunstein attributes much of this change and the level of harmony and consensus to the occupant of the Chief Justice seat.  Harlan Fisk Stone held that position in 1941 and brought about the present contentious era.

But the Court is not as divided as one might think.   Politicians and the media focus on the split decisions; however, over half of the Court’s decisions are unanimous.  In recent years as much as 63% were unanimous.  Split (e.g. 5-4) decisions tend to be less than 20 percent in any given year.

So, there is a significant thread of consensus within the Court even in these contentious times.   Those unanimous decisions result from Justices applying clearly stated law and jurisprudence to highly technical questions.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Post Parkland (and now Santa Fe) - Call to action

Immediately following the Parkland mass public shooting, I asked readers of the Liberty Takes Effort blog to ACT by contacting their governors and state legislators to demand immediate passage of Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws within their states.
If you acted - great.  I am going to ask you to do more to protect children in our schools.   If you did not – you can jump on board now.

The fatal shooting of 10 and wounding of 14 at Santa Fe High School in Texas last week is just one more warning that this can happen anywhere.

Florida passed an ERPO law within weeks of the Parkland mass public shooting.  Reasonable people demanded reasonable action and reasonable elected officials acted.   Florida’s new law has been used several times already to intervene and separate a person at the intersection of dangerousness and fire arm access. 

Vermont and Rhode Island recently passed ERPO laws and 20 additional states are considering them (AK, AL, AZ, HI, IA, IL, MA [legislature voting very soon], ME, MI, MN, MS, NJ, NV, NY, OR, PA, TN, TX, VA, WY.)  Is your state listed?   Is it not?  Have you expressed your opinion to your state legislator and governor?  Have you encouraged your family and friends to take action?  Waiting for the next election is not the answer!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Post Parkland – dangerousness and fire arm access

Dangerous people should not have access to fire arms.  On this subject there seems to be near universal agreement.  Laws, regulations, and enforcement are required to intervene and prevent people who are dangerous from purchasing or possessing fire arms.

Controversy arises largely in the defining of dangerousness.  Mental health professionals fear the mentally ill generally will be further stigmatized and isolated.  Civil rights defenders fear abuse of civil rights without clear definitions and strict adherence to due process.  These are legitimate concerns that must be addressed in the development of policies.

There are existing federal and state laws that prohibit specific categories of dangerous people from purchasing fire arms. For example, people involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or found not guilty by reason of insanity, or who committed a violent act towards others and are the subject of a domestic violence restraining order, or have been convicted of a felony, or have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Post Parkland: Fire Arms – Inventories, statistics, and definitions

How many households have fire arms?

There are approximately 327 million people usually resident in the United States (the population).   Of those, about 77% or 252 million are over the age of 18 (adults).  Of those adults about 100 million (40% of adult population) live in a household with a fire arm.

By comparison, in 1972 the U.S. population was 209 million.   Of those, about 65% or 136 million were over the age of 18 (adults).   The population has aged significantly since 1972 from 65% to 77% adults.  Of those adults, about 70 million (51%) lived in a household with a fire arm. 

How many fire arms are there?

There are an estimated 350 million fire arms in circulation in the US.   Though there are only 100 million households with fire arms owners may have multiple firearms.  Over 65% of fire arm owners report having more than one fire arm and about 30% have more than five.   The average household with fire arms has 3.5 weapons present.

No statistics were found indicating how many fire arms were in circulation in 1972.  However, if the 3.5 average of the present were applied to that time it would be about 245 million.

The adult population has grown 85% in 45 years.  The fire arm inventory has grown about 44%.  Though the total number of fire arms in circulation has grown from 245 million to 350 million the adult per capita number of fire arms has decreased from 1.8 fire arms per adult to 1.4.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Post Parkland – Constitutional constraints to action

In 2008, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court in the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ET AL. v. HELLER case said after acknowledging the Court has full awareness of fire arm deaths in the country, “the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table.”

Any proposed action in response to the mass public shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida must be lawful.   Fire arm regulation must not violate 2nd Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.   Seizure of weapons from dangerous persons and involuntary confinement of the mentally ill must not violate the 4th Amendment right to due process.   Reporting of dangerousness by health and school officials must not violate due process and 5th Amendment privacy rights.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Post Parkland - what is the goal?

Tens of thousands of students yesterday commemorated the deaths of their fellow students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  The students expressed a range of emotion and opinion.   Some expressed in signs and words their sympathy for Parkland, while others said simply, “I don’t feel safe.”  Some called generally for action.  Some called for specific action such as banning “assault rifles.”  Others said they planned to focus on what they can do within their control by making their own student bodies more welcoming.

Watching videos of students making statements at protests one feels that adults have let these children down in any number of ways.  Six-year-old children are participating in active shooter drills in their schools.  Think about that.  Many, if not most, of the children participating in yesterday’s protests have practiced those drills their entire childhood.
Children should be allowed innocence.   Adults have failed them.

The students’ actions yesterday may raise media attention briefly.  But students (children) are not going to make necessary changes.  Adults should not be relying on children to do what adults should do.

The sorrow and anger that follows events like Parkland is often seen as a catalyst for change.  But that strong emotion subsides for those not directly impacted.  The nation’s attention span is short.  The media has moved on to team coverage of winter storms, Hollywood giving itself yet another award, porn star recollections, and March Madness.

We tend to be a nation that seeks fast and simple solutions.  We seek the silver bullet answer.  We eat prepared and fast food.  We want a drug or surgery to take care of our ailments when we know discipline and hard work offer a cure.   We can approve a $45 million school capital project with the snap of a finger, but God forbid we approve an additional custodian to maintain that school in the operational budget.

We tend to call out for legislation, particularly federal legislation, when something goes wrong.  When we are outraged that a federal employee paid $600 for a toilet seat we do not demand accountability within the federal workforce. Instead, we pass a federal law that puts $1 billion dollars of bureaucracy in place to prevent anyone from buying a $600 toilet again. 
The slog; the long term continuing process; the heavy lifting - we don’t like it and we are not good at it.   But that is what is necessary if the probability of more mass public shootings in schools is to be lowered.

Since Parkland’s mass public shooting there were several instances of threats against schools.  In the most disturbing of these two students had the real potential of executing another Parkland:

A thirteen-year-old boy committed suicide in a school bathroom in Ohio with a rifle.  Police found on his phone that he admired the Columbine murderers and he wrote a detailed attack plan for his school.  Why he changed his mind at the last minute and took only his own life may never be known.  What if he had carried out the plan?

In Vermont, an 18-year-old former student of a Rutland high school planned for two years to attack the school.  He bought a shotgun and four boxes of ammunition.  His mistake was to tell a young woman of his plan.  She called police.   He too praised the Columbine attack and thought he might carry out the attack on the anniversary of Columbine (April 20). 
[Aside:  Ask your children’s school if they have plans for heightened awareness on April 20.]

There is clearly a real and enduring danger of further mass public shootings at schools.
On February 18, my Liberty Takes Effort blog called for specific action – passage of an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law in Florida and passage of federal law to assist all states in implementing ERPO.   Blog readers were given specific contact information to lobby legislators.
Florida enacted the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act."   In a short three weeks the state came together to act in response to the horrendous mass public shooting against innocent people.   The families, legislators, and the Governor are to be applauded.  The federal government is moving toward legislation to support states implementing similar laws.

Great! But … legislation is not a silver bullet.  Passage of a single piece of legislation is not going to solve the problem.  The problem is complex and multifaceted.   Legislation is not the goal. It is only a means to an end.  It will take a lot of hard work to implement the legislation effectively and the nation’s track record in this regard is left wanting.  There are also additional actions that can be taken that might have further positive effect.

Much of the reaction to Parkland and the commentary over the past month revealed a lack of understanding about the complexity of the issue.  Without a common stated goal and common accepted facts it will be difficult to bring about further effective change.
The Liberty Takes Effort Blog will in the coming weeks offer four or five posts intended to create greater understanding to underpin concerted action that is both effective and achievable.

Required first is a stated and accepted common GOAL to focus research and action.

To be effective, one must focus like a laser beam on a specific goal and not be distracted.   A well defined and achievable goal is: