Monday, August 09, 2004

Welcome to the Monkey House: The New Economy

Jobs Grow, Optimism Shrinks in Wisconsin
Displaced workers find new employment, but they're earning less in a service economy.

By Warren Vieth, LA Times Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — For several months, the city known as "Titletown" — for its football prowess — has been earning recognition of a different sort. Green Bay was the nation's fifth-fastest-growing job market in June. The previous month, it tied Laredo, Texas, for first place.

But Steve Anderson sees little to celebrate.

"Supposedly there's a whole mess of new jobs being created, but they're not jobs we can live with," said Anderson, a 50-year-old factory worker whose career in manufacturing will come to an end today.

"Look at this," he said, leafing through a stack of recent job postings. "They're paying $9 an hour. Five years ago, it would have paid maybe $18…. This one is paying $12…. Here's one for $8.75…. These are the great new jobs that are opening up in Green Bay."

Anderson's frustration reflects a characteristic of the current recovery. Yes, the U.S. economy is creating new jobs. But to some of the workers who have been displaced during the downturn of the last three years, the new jobs look a lot worse than their old jobs.

Since December, Wisconsin has recovered all of the jobs it lost over the previous three years, turning a 76,000-job deficit into a net gain of 700.

But not all jobs are created equal. Although the lion's share of Wisconsin's losses were in the high-paying manufacturing sector, most of the gains have been in service industries with widely varying pay scales, some quite low.

In effect, the state has been swapping well-paying factory jobs for positions in restaurants, hotels, casinos, hospitals, banks, insurance firms and temp agencies.

They left out collection agencies, but never mind.

"The pain and suffering is a little more acute here," said Dennis K. Winters, vice president of NorthStar Economics in Madison, the state capital.

Nationwide, employers have added 1.5 million jobs since last August, restoring more than half of the 2.6 million lost during the first 2 1/2 years of President's Bush's term.

But new Labor Department figures released Friday called into question the strength of the recovery and returned job creation to the forefront of the election debate.

Employment growth slowed to an anemic 32,000 new payroll positions in July, and June's gain was revised down to 78,000 — far short of the 295,000 average of the previous three months.

Come on, what's with all this whining and bellyaching? Let's focus on the Good News: US corporations created 300,000 new jobs--professional jobs--in India last month, and 210,000 in Taiwan where they're really needed.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of in West Chester, Pa., has crunched the numbers that both the Kerry and Bush campaigns use. He is convinced that the quality of jobs has declined.

"We lost a large number of very highly compensated jobs. That was unique to this downturn," Zandi said. "The jobs that are being created now, at least over the past year, are still predominately lower-paying." Some analysts said the shift helped explain why workers' average hourly earnings failed to keep pace with inflation in recent months.

Yah think? Of course, the fact that wages have been stagnant since the 80's might have a little something to do with it, too.

Forget that boring old manufacturing job that pays your mortgage but ties you down to the 'old', useless economy. Vote for Bush: He'll Have You Flipping Burgers in No Time!