Friday, February 4, 2011

January Employment Data

Well, the BLS is out with their data for January.  The headline unemployment rate fell to 9%.  But my favorite employment indicator is the male working-age (here 25-54) employment population ratio, and that seems to have started a marked improvement in the last couple of months too (above).

The ratio for women improved too:


Paul said...

It's not all about quantity. Quality is important too! What types of jobs are replacing the jobs lost?

Mr. Sunshine said...

Probably the noise floor...

Noel said...

Stew, off topic, but maybe not, would you care comment on this?

Greg said...

Noel: Stuart might not, but I will.

Robinson is looking in the wrong place. Cellphones are, in fact, immeasurably improving the lives of billions of people. More than half the people on the planet have one -- for so many poor people to have one, it must be very useful to them.

A recent article in Time magazine talked about how cellphones are used for banking in Kenya, for authenticating and managing medical supplies in other parts of Africa, and for providing market prices and other crucial information in lots of places around the world.

This one innovation alone is having an incredible impact. Just not on Denmark or England.

For people in the rich world, though, diminishing returns are definitely setting in. Life has already improved vastly in the areas of food, shelter, clothing, sickness, transport, and work. (It's also changed a lot in the spiritual and moral dimensions, communication and entertainment -- your call as to whether these are improvements. ;-))

The two remaining areas of life where 'technology' can make further appreciable changes are education and degenerative diseases. It's harder to do, and the effects are not dramatic, because the big gains have already been made even in these two areas.

But for "the other five billion", there is still a lot of potential. The challenge is making it cheap enough.

A couple of other quick comments. Robinson is blurring the distinction between an invention -- the original discovery of something -- and innovation, its widespread adoption. That weakens his argument. He's also wrong to say that we have passed the point where greater computational power will help. Machine vision -- where computers can interpret what their cameras see and respond in real time -- is still right at the edge of what is possible. So is open-ended reasoning. We're going to have to monitor and manage the natural environment and our crops much more intensively and extensively than we have done in the past. We definitely need more computational power and more communication bandwidth. That said, Robinson is quite right to be concerned about the growth of irrational thought. That's an innovation we can do without.