It has been a difficult time for workers in America but, if the latest report means anything, it might be time for a turnaround. According to the United States Department of Labor, while the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose again last week, this number was notably smaller than analysts had expected. This, analysts say, could demonstrate that labor market conditions continue to tighten.
Now, you have to break down these numbers a little further to really begin to understand the health of the labor market. Claims for the most recent week rang in at 234,000, which is up from the 232,000 last week. However, this is lower than the 235,000 Dow Jones estimated, lower than the 237,000 Bloomberg estimated, and lowe rthan the 238,000 Reuters had estimated.
Another metric—continued benefits (those filing for two or more weeks)–remained unchanged at 1,954,000 this week. That is certainly good news. Overall, the four-week moving average of continuing claims fell 2,750, to 1.9 million; that is still below 2 million for the 17th week in a row.
More importantly, the US jobless claims registered below the 300,000 threshold for 129 straight weeks. That is the best hold on the numbers since 1970; this was a time when the labor market itself—the whole of the US population—was half the size of today’s labor market.
Looking at the big picture as a whole, though, you have to take stock in the fact that the unemployment rate in the United States is now at a 16-year low, sitting now at 4.3 percent.
But while all this is certainly a sign that we need not worry too much, if these numbers continue to hold at their present levels, they might start being ignored. These numbers need to start moving in one direction of the other before they can become truly meaningful in terms of which decisions need to be made for the sake of the economy. Still, with layoffs at the lowest they have been for the last several decades, and a slowdown in unemployment applications, things are, in fact, looking up.
Trump: “Best time ever” for US workers; AFL-CIO disagrees
Donald Trump continues to tout a booming US economy and low unemployment as a major accomplishment of his presidency.
With the stock market generally rising and consistently improving jobless numbers, it would seem to be a good place to hang his hat. As with many Trump assertions, however, there are some significant caveats.
Richard Trumka, head of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) recently asserted that Trumps’ policies are not benefitting workers for the most part.
Trade sanctions touted as increasing American business sales and jobs are offset by tax code changes that encourage companies to outsource jobs.
There has been no progress in creating infrastructure programs, largely expected to provide better-paying employment opportunities nationally.
Trumka also cited the many regulation roll-backs that make jobs more dangerous for workers. A former head of the coal miners’ union recently faulted the EPA and Department of Labor for tilting efforts to increase coal production so itbenefit owners far more than workers, including compromised safety standards.
Finally, Trumpka talked about what affects the American worker most, wage stagnation. Salaries remain mostly flat across most industries. With inflation starting to creep up, most frontline workers have less spending ability than they had when they entered the workforce.
President Trump responded with a series of tweets repeating his administrative lines of how a positive stock market and lower unemployment figures make it a great time to be an American worker, while attacking the AFL-CIO head personally, claiming he does a poor job for his union.
Trump exaggerated some of his numbers, including how the United States’ unemployment rate is at its lowest percentage ever. While the number is impressive and trending well, it is the lowest in 18 years, not ever.
The president also took offense at assertions that Canada is an integral part of American business and trade. Trump recently stated there is no need to include Canada in a revised NAFTA deal and warned Congress not to derail an agreement with Mexico by coming to the aid of Canada.
The AFL-CIO’s Trumka told reporters that an agreement with Mexico that does not include Canada would be difficult to implement because of how the three economies are currently integrated and dependent on each other. “It’s pretty hard to see how that would work,” he said.
Even with the declining influence of US unions, Trumka’s position as the head of the largest federation of US trade unions makes him influential voice in trade deals. Congress will consider his concerns when it comes to passing any trade legislation.
Trump Threatens to Shut Down Government over Immigration
Donald Trump’s weekend tweets include a firm warning that Congress needs to address immigration reform, including his wall, in the upcoming appropriations bill or face a September shutdown.
“I would be willing to shut down the government,” said the tweet, “if the Democrats do not give us the votes for border security which includes the wall! Must get rid of lottery system, catch-and-release, etc. and finally go to a system of immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our country.”
Trump’s tweet followed a week when Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, visited the White House to discuss funding the government. No details of those meetings were released.
Democrats have made legislating a path to citizenship for so-called “dreamers” already in the country a focal point of their immigration efforts. There are indications some Senate Republicans are open to including such a law, which would be key to any support from the Democrats.
Bold idea or more bluster?
This is not the first time Trump threatened a government shutdown over his border wall, which he considers his biggest campaign promise and a potential legacy-deciding accomplishment.
In fact, the government shut down for three days over a weekend in January, allowing it to go mostly unnoticed. In February, the government technically shut down for a few hours, while the House and Senate debated spending bills and immigration.
In April, the president threatened another shutdown if immigration and his wall were not addressed in the spending bill that included his tax cut proposals. He backed down and begrudgingly signed the legislation while warning Congress he will “never sign another bill like that” again.
Trump’s tweet puts the onus of passing immigration reform firmly on the Democrats. However, Republicans are not united when it comes to the topic, either. Last month, the Republican-led House rejected an immigration bill approved by conservatives in the Senate.
With the next Appropriations Bill due in September, Trump proposes shutting the government down two months before the mid-term elections. Publicly stating it is the Democrats’ fault might not be enough to save Republican incumbents, especially if there are well-publicized arguments among factions of the Republican Party.
Trump might feel forced to sign another spending bill he doesn’t like when faced with the predictable uproar from within Republican ranks.
What Trump wants:
Trump’s vision is to build an impenetrable wall along the southern border, promote strict and quick enforcement of illegal immigration laws, and implement a merit-based immigration system. In theory, this would allow only the “best and brightest” of the world to legally enter the United States.
He wants to end the current lottery visa system, although it is unclear whether family members of those admitted on a merit system would enjoy preferred status like families have under the lottery visa program.
The president also wants to end “Catch and Release” policies, which allow illegal immigrants who are caught to go free pending a court date. Trump often says, “No one ever shows up!” despite statistics showing the opposite is true.
When the administration ordered a “no tolerance” policy to deal with illegal immigrants, jails were quickly overwhelmed and the separation of children from their incarcerated parents resulted in a logistical and public relations disaster for Trump and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).
Many U.S Households Still Unable To Afford Basics
Even with a growing US economy, it seems that its benefits are yet to reach many Americans. Many still can’t afford a basic middle class life. A recent study done by the United Way ALICE Project has indicated that around 51 million or 43% of the households in the country cannot afford basic necessities like food, housing, healthcare, childcare, a cell phone and transportation.
Two classes of households
The study has divided these families into two classes. The first class is made up of 16.1 million households who live in poverty and are unable to access basic life-sustaining needs. Another group has been dubbed ALICE or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This class is just short of what is needed to live in the modern economy.
In a statement while releasing the report, Stephanie Hoopes, the director of the project said despite the economic gains made, many families are still experiencing financial hardships.
Among the states that are hard hit include Hawaii, New Mexico and California where each has 49% of their households unable to afford basic needs. North Dakota has the lowest percentage at 32%.
According to the study, many of the people that are struggling financially work as the country’s home health aides, store clerks, office assistants and child care workers. These workers earn very little income and have little savings. 66% of the country’s jobs pay below $20 per hour.
Utah has a total of 941,094 households and 10% of these are said to be living in poverty while 29% were categorized as ALICE. Cumulatively, Utah has 39% of its households struggling financially.
Raising cost of living with constant wages
According to Hoopes, wages have stagnated for long while the cost of living is going up. She adds that this has caused a lot of anger and frustration because despite being told that they are doing well, the cant feel and associate with the same. To make matters worse, many of these families are unable to save any money for the future.
Hoopes says that many people lost their savings during the recession. During the same period many people lost their jobs as many companies winded up or retrenched their workforce to adjust to the tightening economic times. During that period, many were sustained by their savings. When they were reemployed, the pay was little and unable to replenish their savings.