Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

January 14, 2017 12:00 PM

State of the Nation

As with last month, any statements in this issue of the Watch which are not sourced are mine.

The United States is now a country of 323 million people. [Bureau of the Census]

“In 1970, foreign-born people made up less than 5 percent of the U.S. population; today they are about 14 percent.” [WP/Fareed Zakaria, 12/8/16]

33% of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction while 54% say it is on the wrong track. This is the best right direction number since January 2013 and the lowest wrong track number since December 2012. (NBC/WSJ, 12/15/16)


The official BLS seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for:

December 2016 is 4.7%
November 2016 is 4.6%
October 2016 is 4.9%
September 2016 is 5.0%
October 2009 is 10.0% (high point)
February 2009 is 8.3%

If one takes into account the total number of unemployed + those marginally attached to the labor force + those working part-time who want full-time work, the unemployment rate for:

December 2016 is 9.2%
November 2016 is 9.3%
October 2016 is 9.5%
September 2016 is 9.7%
October 2009 is 17.1% (high point)
February 2009 is 15.2%

[BLS data is based on those 16 years of age and older.]

In the first week of January 2016, Gallup found an unadjusted unemployment rate of 5.1%. It also found an under-employment rate of 13.7% (unemployed + those working part-time but wanting full-time). This is based on those 18 years of age and older.

“By all accounts, white Americans continue to enjoy bar better economic conditions than do Americans of color. The unemployment rate for prime-age white workers is just 3.7 percent. For black workers, it is 7.8 percent and for Hispanic or Latino workers, 5.3 percent.

“Indeed, the employment rate in rural areas was actually 2.9% lower in mid-2016 than it was in early 2007…” [The Atlantic, 1/2/17]

There were 5.5 million job openings at the end of October. During that month 5.1 million people were hired and 4.9 million were separated from their employment.

In the 12 month period ending in October there were 62.6 million hires and 60.1 million separations yielding a net employment gain of 2.5 million. [BLS]

In 1979, there were nearly 20 million American factory workers. Today there are 12.3 million workers in U.S. factories. This represents a loss of nearly 8 million factory workers. In 1941, there were 600,000 more manufacturing workers than there are today. It is estimated that about 50,000 more manufacturing jobs will be added in the U.S. between now and the end of 2019. There is a general consensus that the primary driver of the loss of these manufacturing jobs in the United States, as in the rest of the world, is automation. [WSJ.com, 12/8/16]

The United States is second only to Germany in the average hourly manufacturing compensation costs: Germany $42.42, U.S. $37.71, UK $41.44, Japan $23.60, Brazil $7.97, Mexico $5.90, China $4.42, India$ 1.59. [Steve Rattner]

The average hourly earnings of all private employees has grown from roughly $20 in 2006 to $25.89 today.

11.1% of the wage and salary workers in the United States were members of unions in 2015. This means that 14.8 million wage and salary workers are members of unions. In 1983, the first year in which comparable data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1% or 17.7 million union workers.

The union membership rate among public-sector workers is 35.2% and among private-sector workers the membership rate is 6.7%. [U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics]

Columbia University graduate students have voted to join the United Auto Workers. The UAW represents 38,500 graduate workers at 48 campuses. Other cases are pending at Harvard, Yale and Duke. The NLRB recently ruled that private universities must treat graduate-student teaching assistants and researchers as employees. [WSJ, 12/10-11/2016]

If you are looking for examples of how unfair things can be, take a look at Reagan National and Dulles airports, two facilities operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, an organization which includes in its membership, Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and the federal government.

Many of those who work at the airport, whether for individual airlines or the airport itself, actually work for private contractors who contract with the airport or the individual airlines. Some of the workers employed by contractors for the individual airlines are paid as little as $6 per hour. A contractor provides the folks that handle baggage as well as the folks who provide wheelchairs to passengers. Recently, this contractor reduced the hourly wages for baggage handlers from $9.50 to $9.00 per hour and the wages for wheelchair attendants from $7.25 to $6.15 per hour.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is apparently considering these issues but has not been able to resolve them. [Washington Post, 12/30/16]

The Political Parties

The divisions between Democrats and Republicans are increasingly stark. An example is found in a recent PEW Research Center report (12/14/16) on Americans’ view of stricter environmental laws and regulations. Divisions by age are somewhat less stark.

  Cost too many jobs and hurt economy Are worth the cost
Total 34% 59%
Rep/Lean Rep 58% 35
Dem/Lean Dem 17 78
18-29 26 70
30-49 29 63
50-64 41 53
65+ 43 47

It’s no big surprise that Republicans and Democrats have exchanged positions when it comes to the future prospects of their respective parties. Before the election 61% of Republicans say they were “very/somewhat” optimistic about the future of their party. Post-election 77% have that view. Conversely, before the election 79% of Democrats were very/somewhat optimistic about the future of their party. After the election that has dropped to 61%. [ PEW 12/20/16]

Somewhat surprisingly Republicans and Democrats hold generally similar views in at least three areas:

54% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats believe their respective political parties do too little for middle-income people,

52% of Republicans and 62% of Democrats believe their respective parties do too little for low-income people, and

45% of Republicans and 43% of Democrats say their parties do too much for high-income people.

Following the election, 34% of registered voters see the Democratic party positively while 42% view it negatively. At the same time, 35% see the Republican party positively and 38% view it negatively. [NBC/WSJ, 12/15/16]


Have you ever wondered what happens along the way when you order something from a distant location and FedEx is the chosen delivery device? Recently I ordered some decorative pins from a source in Metairie, LA. Below is the path those pins took on their way to my home.

February 13, 2016

11:56 a.m. Picked up, Tendered at FedEx’s office, Metairie, LA
12:02 p.m. Shipment information sent to FedEx
5:48 p.m. Picked up, Harahan, LA
8:29 p.m. Left FedEx origin facility, Harahan, LA
11:06 p.m. Arrived at FedEx locations, Memphis, TN

February 14, 2016

3:22 a.m. Departed FedEx location, Memphis, TN
5:45 a.m. At destination sort facility, Dulles, VA
8:11 a.m. At local FedEx facility, Washington, DC
8:41 a.m. On FedEx vehicle for delivery, Washington, DC
12:20 p.m. Delivered to my home, Washington, DC

One Country?

If you look at a globe or world map the United States looks to be a single country with a couple of detached islands. But that is where the oneness ends.

In fact, the United States is currently literally divided into “a number of entities or territories. One territory is composed of the east coast and the west coast. The other territories include the economically secure vs those who are not so favored; urban areas vs rural areas: the healthy vs the unhealthy; Republicans vs Democrats vs Independents” ; union members vs non-union members; those who are being educated vs those who are not.

These various “territories” are crying for leadership; leadership which can again meld them into a single country.

Looking to the future

Looking to the future of the country, 56% are mainly hopeful and optimistic while 42% are mainly worried and pessimistic.

69% see the American Dream as harder to attain today than it was a generation ago. Only 10% see it as easier. 49% say that a generation from now the American Dream will still be harder to attain then it is today. 17% are a little more optimistic.

42% think the nation’s economy will get better in the next 12 months while 19% say it will get worse.

32% think that Donald Trump’s economic policies will help their personal financial situation. 21% think they will hurt and 46% say they will not make much difference.

Interestingly, these numbers are all but identical to those found in December of 1992, just after Bill Clinton was elected. 31% thought they would help, 21% said they would hurt and 44% said they would make no difference [NBC/WSJ, 12/15/16]

Folks are feeling pretty good about 2017 according to a Morning Consult poll taken 12/19/16. They describe themselves as: Hopeful – 72%, Optimistic -61%, Excited – 51%, Peaceful – 49%, Joyful – 47% and Relaxed – 46%.

On the downside they describe themselves as: Anxious – 50%, Fearful -34%, Distrustful -31%, Pessimistic – 27% and Confused – 26%. There are a variety of other unhappy feelings ranging from 17% to 25%.

Odds and Ends

U.S. heath care spending reached a new high of $3.2 trillion in 2015. This was an increase of 5.8% from 2014. Of these expenditures the federal government spent 28.7%, individual households spent 27.7%, private businesses spent 19.9%, state and local governments spent 17.1% and other private interest spent 6.7%. [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services]

Americans made $373.25 billion in total charitable contributions in 2015. Of that amount 71% ($264.58 billion) came from individuals; 16% ($58.46 billion) came from foundations; 9% ($31.76 billion) came from bequest and 5% ($18.45 billion) came from corporations. [WSJ, 12/12/16]

In 2001, 189,000 unauthorized immigrants were deported from the United States. Of those, 73,000 were criminals and 116,000 non-criminals. The number of deportations peaked at 435,000, 199,000 criminals/237,000 non-criminals. In 2014, the last year for which data is readily available, the total deportations were 414,000, 168,000 criminals/247,000 non-criminals. [PEW, 8/31/16]

Portland, Oregon has passed a tax that is assessed against companies whose CEOs are deemed to make too much money. In this case, “too much money” is defined as the CEO making at least 100 times more than the average employee. All companies pay a tax of 2.2% of net income. If the CEO makes 100 times or more than the average employee, the company is assessed an additional 10% tax. If the CEO makes more than 250 times what the average employee makes the penalty is an additional 25% tax. [CBC-FiveThirtyEight]

92% of children born in 1940, whose parents were in the middle 80% of parental incomes, grew up to earn more than their parents. That number has now dropped to 46%. [Washington Post, 10/9/16]

Last year, 39.5% of people between the ages of 18-34 were living with their parents, siblings or other relatives. The previous high was in 1940 when 40.9% of this group had similar housing arrangements. The low point over the last 75 years was in 1960 when 24.1% of those 18-34 lived with their families. [WSJ, 12/23/16]

59% of Americans want abortion to be all or mostly legal. This number has remained largely unchanged since 1995. [FiveThirtyEight]

52,404 people died from drug overdoses in 2015. [Center for Disease Control and Prevention/CBS News]

517 companies obtained a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. This is up from 407 companies in 2015.

Of 128 major college football teams, in which the majority of players are African-American, only 14 are coached by African-American coaches. [Washington Post, 12/12/16]

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