Friday, June 29, 2018

Never overlook vocational training

Be it through the Boy Scouts or numerous school tours at the factory, conversations that I regularly have with high schoolers center on the job market. They can’t help but wonder what might be the best path of study and, in turn, what sort of career should they prepare for to ensure a comfortable adulthood.

For years, I have been suggesting that many should go after a career that is not predicated on a college degree. Economic and employment trends both show immediate and long-term needs for skilled tradesman. A teenager would be far better off by abandoning the college preparatory, general education tract in high school and, instead, entering BOCES and/or preparing for trade school after graduation.

It’s an outcome of supply and demand; there’s just too much competition for a finite number of job openings that require college degrees to warrant the mindset that everyone needs a diploma.

This wasn’t always the case. Just a generation or two ago, the college-educated were at a premium and, accordingly, could fetch a premium. Following World War II, only 5 percent of Americans could claim a college degree. In 1970, only 26 percent of the middle class workforce had received any education beyond the twelfth grade. Now, more than 3 in 10 have a degree, while 70 percent of young Americans enter college within 2 years of their high school graduation.

Due to this glut of educated workers, employers either can’t match candidates to jobs for which they became enlightened or they can dole-out lower wages for college graduates.

Newspapers have been chock full of reports of college graduates having to accept what they perceive to be menial jobs since businesses in their career field aren’t hiring while many more have had to move back into their family’s homes to make ends meet, inspiring the title of the “Boomerang Generation”. Roughly half of college graduates are working jobs that don't require a degree while 34 percent of adults aged 18 to 34 live with their parents.

It doesn’t help that they leave college with an average of $30,000 in bills. Without the job opportunities to make good on the alleged potential they have, they are saddled with the burdensome debt for a while, which is why total college debt in America exceeds $1.2 trillion.

While the reality of the economy paints a grim picture for young college-educated Americans, that same economy paints a rosy picture for their peers who instead opted for tax-payer funded in high school or paid a nominal fee to a trade school.

Teens and young adults who develop vocational skills see immediate rewards, long-term gain, and stability because they are marketable, in demand, and in relatively low supply.    

A perfect example is machinists. Numerous studies have found that in upwards of 400,000 manufacturing jobs across the United States remain unfilled due to the lack of qualified candidates. As for being “qualified”, a college degree doesn’t cut it – but a certificate from a trade school does. High school seniors who took machining are guaranteed a job immediately upon graduation and, in most cases, were claimed by area machine shops and factories in their junior year. A young machinist, fresh out of high school, could command a starting pay in the range of $15 to $20 per hour throughout upstate New York, more if he left the area.

Those who pursue nursing, either in high school or afterwards, also face a welcoming job market. Due to the aging Baby Boomer population and the stress it places on the health industry, there will be a nursing shortage over the next decade and beyond when demand is expected to outstrip supply. Licensed Practical Nurses earn an average of $42,400. Those wages are expected to rise with demand. Plus, the role of LPN is often used as a stepping stone for those looking to become Registered Nurses who bring in an average salary of $69,000.

We can’t forget truck drivers, either. Someone who invests $2,500 to $4,000 into a CDL will find himself desirable: there are literally hundreds of thousands of openings for drivers nationally and that mismatch of supply versus demand will be in favor of the licensed drivers for the long haul as a good portion of truck drivers are entering their retirement years.  Because of that, the starting salary for truck drivers ranges from $38,000 for local work to $45,000 for over-the-road haulers. Experienced long-distance drivers net $75,000 and many top out at $100,000.

It’s not surprising that trade certificates earn just as much as – and, in most cases, even more than – college diplomas. The opportunity is there. You just have to take advantage of it. We should encourage our kids to do just that.

From the 02 July 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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