Thursday, June 21, 2018

Unemployment remains underreported

Throughout his presidential campaign Donald Trump dismissed the jobs reports coming from Washington, saying they underreported unemployment and failed to recognize the true economic conditions. “Phony” and “unbelievable” were recurring themes.

When he spouted those statements back in the day, one would have hoped that were he to be elected he would develop a wholesale change to the statistics, reflecting the reality of the job market.

But, alas, he hasn’t.

Worse yet, he’s using the same methodology to push the narrative of how good he is for the economy, just as his predecessors did before him.

The June jobs report showed the economy added 223,000 jobs which pushed the unemployment rate down to 3.8%. Among Trump’s follow-ups was a June 17 tweet that read, “Our economy is perhaps BETTER than it has ever been. Companies doing really well, and moving back to America, and jobs numbers are the best in 44 years.”

Yes, the economy is doing quite well, and will be for a while thanks to some of his economic policies -- first and foremost the cut in corporate tax rates which is a real winner for the 70 million people employed by small businesses – but, when you know that a statistical measure that’s important to Wall Street and Main Street is broken, fix it.

How broken is it?  

First off, the Labor Department’s long-held means of recordkeeping discounts so-called discouraged workers, those who have given up looking for work, at least for the time being, because of a lack of prospects. Despite those workers being willing and able to work, government economists do not account for them in the general unemployment statistic, making the misguided assumption that they have dropped out of the workforce entirely. If they were taken into consideration they would add 378,000 to the ranks of the unemployed.
The generally-accepted unemployment rate also excludes another group of what the feds consider marginally-attached to the workforce. Currently, there are another 1.5 million able-bodied and un-retired Americans who had worked at one time yet have not looked for work for a variety of reasons that, according to the Labor Department, include scholastic and family responsibilities.

Accounting for both sets of workers there are 1.878 million people who are left out of economic concern. Were their numbers to be added to the general population of job seekers, as they should, total unemployment would rise to 7.978 million, pushing the unemployment rate to 5 percent.

The undercalculation does not end there. A good many non-government economists and those who take an active role in the analysis of private sector trends (financiers, entrepreneurs, etc.) believe that those who are underemployed should be accounted for. An underemployed individual is someone who, due to economic conditions, is working part-time at what was once a full-time job or, in some cases, is working at a new job that’s a considerable step down in terms of hours, income, and responsibilities than what was once had. There were 4.9 million Americans who fit this bill in May.

Add the underemployed to the unemployed and the total workforce available or active that is not meeting its full potential is 12.878 million. The resultant underemployment/unemployment rate is 7.9 percent.

That number – which is still likely underreported due to the Labor Department’s suspect methods of data collection -- is closer to what many families are feeling as they try to make ends meet. This “real feel” was never made more apparent than during the Great Recession when everyone knew that job rolls were even worse off than advertised. Then, it was widely accepted that the real unemployment rate was something close to or in excess of 20 percent although we were told that it never exceed 10 percent during the downturn.  

This is par for the course – the federal government openly manipulates data in its messages to the masses to paint a prettier picture of the circumstances they have some control over. This deliberate act is entirely political in nature, a means of saving face for and promoting, one, the executive branch and its myriad agencies and departments and, two, the elected officials who choose to inappropriately meddle in economic affairs through legislation.

By making unemployment appear lower than it is the powers-that-be ensure the media deliver a message that keeps enough Americans on their side, clamoring for more government intervention by making them believe that all previous regulations and stimuli have been meaningful and successful.

But, anyone who has been looking for gainful employment knows better. 

The President knows, too. He said us much on the campaign trail. 

It’s time for him to follow through on his statements and change the way we view and use the numbers. The decision makers in businesses and homes – and at the polls -- need to see the job market for what it is and not through rose-colored glasses.    

From the 25 June 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, June 15, 2018

Celebrating military fathers

I recently spent most of two weeks in Pittsburgh for business.

Leaving the kids was tough. I have a 6 year-old and a 1 year-old at home and they are my pride and joy. I hadn’t been away from the little one for more than a 1 night at a time -- I had even slept in chair next to him when he spent a couple of one-week stints in the hospital during his first few months. So, this was, in essence, our first time apart.

One night, as I talked to them on FaceTime from my hotel room and wished I was there to hear how my daughter’s school day went or to see what new tricks my son picked up, I put into perspective: It was just 2 weeks. It’s nothing compared to what military fathers go through.

I couldn’t help but think about those young men in our armed forces who are deployed overseas, far from their loved ones for long periods of time in places within or next to war zones. The lengths of their assignments vary by branch of the military but in the Army and Marines, for example, the typical deployment is 12 months and can be up to 18 months depending on the mission.

During my short trip, I might have missed some tiny moments. When those men are away from their kids for a year at a time –protecting us and the oppressed people of other nations -- they are missing many magical moments.

Suppose they, too, have a 6 year-old. Those dads would miss out on school concerts, sporting events, family vacations, the first loose tooth, glowing report cards, and so many simple things that define childhood from playing in streams to visits to the local ice cream stand.

Or, what if those dads also had babies? It’s a good probability, because more than a third of military kids are ages 0 to 5. Those dads wouldn’t be there to hear the first words, see the first steps, feel the first teeth, and develop a powerful bond. A lot can happen with the youngest ones in a year’s time. Missing a good chunk of a baby’s first few years has to really hurt a man.

Despite those damning circumstances and painful experiences, those military dads press on. Somehow, even in their stressful environment, they make it all work with Skype, videos, emails, phone calls, and more, doing their duty for our country while not shirking their duties as fathers.

Half a world away they can still manage to instill their paternal values onto their kids, checking on them often and talking to them about character and good behavior. I’m sure you’ve met some military children and have been enamored with their positive energy, resiliency, respect, and unwavering patriotism. That’s a result of some incredible work by mom on the home front and some difficult remote parenting from their soldier dad.

These powerful and loving souls are in good numbers -- fathers make up a good portion of our fighting forces. 49% of men in the Army have children and that rate is at 45% in the Air Force, 42% in the Navy and 31% in the Marines. There are approximately 1.1 million children who have active duty dads and another 700,000 who have reserve-component parents. That means at any given time 1.8 million kids could have their fathers deployed. To put that into perspective: The entire population of the Buffalo-Niagara metro area is 1.3 million people. A number more than a third greater than that are kids across the country who have a dad in the armed forces. Wow. 

So, as we celebrate Father’s Day and cherish the men in our lives who made us who we are, take the time to reflect on -- and thank -- the men who make America what it is and do that for us while being a dad. It takes a special man, a good man, a strong man, to sign-up to serve and protect our country – all while serving and protecting his young family, too.  

From the 18 June 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News    

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Canal towns need to be ready for the next Geraldo

A few weeks back, TV personality Geraldo Rivera and his brother Craig made a voyage across New York on the Erie Canal. It was met with fanfare from folks who live or do business along the Canal. They were excited that a celebrity would be passing through and might stop at their favorite watering hole or café.

I too was excited and had sent some encouraging Twitter messages about the canal to Geraldo and those who might see him sail (those tweets were then featured in the Buffalo News’ and Syracuse Post-Standard’s reports about his trip).

My interest was a little different. I looked at his tour as a springboard to bigger things. Sure, it was cool to see Geraldo enjoy the hospitality of Medina, for example, but more so I was keen on the national spotlight that was cast on the canal. Clinton’s Ditch is an engineering marvel and a beautiful waterway – anytime that someone can get the world to see that, that’s good for the upstate economy. 

Realize this could be – and is – happening all the time, just not with the likes of someone with a household name like Geraldo. Nowadays, though, everyone is connected to the internet. Social media, blogs, and websites have made similar travels by “regular” people (families, retirees, adventurers, college kids between semesters) accessible to the masses.

I see it all the time. Every day I do a 24-hour Google search of all things Gasport and quite often throughout the summer it discovers the blogs and travel logs of vacationers tackling the canal. They’ll praise, critique, savor, or bemoan their various stops along the system.

It’s great to see outsiders, for the most part, championing the cute little burgs and hamlets.

Occasionally, though, you’ll see a bad report of an unwelcoming town.

We can’t let that happen. We need to roll out the red carpet for every sailor -- doesn’t matter if it’s Geraldo Rivera or Joe Blow. The whole world can now follow peoples’ travels, and it’s that online word-of-mouth that can bring more vessels to our waters or keep them away.

Here are some simple suggestions to the dozens of towns along the 363-mile stretch of the canal.

Provide amenities. Not every village has the space, budget, and infrastructure to provide a picnic area, restroom, and showers to boaters like Middleport does. But, we all can try. Any town with a lift bridge should maintain a port-a-potty (that should fit in the municipal budget) and work with the New York Power Authority (which oversees canal operations) to provide 110-volt hook-ups that could start from the bridgemaster’s shacks. Those two simple niceties could warrant a stop by a boater who might wander your streets and grab a bite to eat or buy something.   

Dress up your canal district. Some of the downtown canal villages are a little run down – it looks like their heydays were back in the canal’s freight era of the mid-1800s. It shouldn’t be that way. The canal is the gateway to your community. Make it look that way. This isn’t an endeavor that will require taxpayer funds. Just look at the sweat equity invested by the wonderful volunteers of the Gasport Beautification Committee. They’ve made downtown look nice with flower pot contests, signage, painting, and regular clean-ups.

Market your port online. Travelers get their information from the internet. They’ll plot their stops based on what they find online from other boaters or from community websites. Not every town has its own Chamber of Commerce to do market, but every town does have a clerk or volunteers who could update their website with a tourism page or make a Facebook page. Give visitors reasons to dock at your bridge and explore your neighborhood. List the events, things to do, and places to eat and shop.

Build an information center. For voyagers who make an impromptu stop, you want to prompt them to stay a while. If every town erected a kiosk at their docking area they could educate folks on the same sort of things that the website would mention – history, things to do, places to go. What would help immensely is a tri-fold brochure that a visitor could pull from the kiosk to use as a directory and map (plus, it’s easier to update than a large painted map/sign of town if businesses close).

Train service workers to treat everyone as a guest. I’ve written of this before – one of my hang-ups with too many Niagara County restaurants and pubs is the assumption that wait staff make that everyone is from around here. The greater Niagara Falls area is a world-class destination (and as an outcome of that so is canal). Yet, I rarely hear workers ask where people are from. That can lead to great conversations like, “Ooo! Do this!” or “Do that!” Front line workers, like they are for their own business, are the best cheerleaders for our entire community. Use them that way.  

It’s hopeful that these practices – and many more – will further help to highlight the Erie Canal as a place to travel. It’s a great public asset that we need to promote and utilize. You never know when the next Geraldo will come to town.     

From the 04 June 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News