Greetings from Washington, D.C. where Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has done the impossible; in a matter of a few days, he has personally shifted our weather patterns from dreary winter to Mid-July. We missed spring, altogether. And it’s like Pruitt brought the goofy and inane 1980s General Hospital “Cassidine Weather Machine” soap opera storeline back to life.
I jest. (Not really.)
And, how about that climate change?
On this morning arrived the April 2018 jobs report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics top measure found that the official unemployment rate for April dropped to 3.9 percent — the lowest rate posted in about 17 years. Indeed, 164,000 added jobs is a good number.
What is more, African-American unemployment dropped to its lowest level since the BLS started keeping such statistics. And that too is good news.
But the troubling insights that bubble up from the April job report — that affect every sector of the workforce — are these: one, according to CNBC reporter and commentator Steve Liesman, is that we have reached full employment; and, second, real wage growth — predicted to be YUUUUGE!!!! by our President after he signed into law last year’s massive tax cuts — was in April 2018 meh. Just meh.
According to a New York Times story posted this week, C-Suites are instead directing the windfalls that they have reaped from their corporate tax cuts towards the buy-back of millions of shares — all to boost shareholder value, but not R&D, or capital investment, or wages and salaries.
Uh oh. Who saw that coming? (Visualize me raising my hand.)
Since it was first introduced over 100 years ago, the monthly BLS jobs report stood as the epitome of American bureaucracy; hardly anyone questioned the non-partisan nature in which the chicken entrails were read and interpreted by head-down and focused government economists.
But today, at least on CNBC, marked a change in how we view what it means to have a good jobs report to something starkly partisan. This morning, in the minutes following the job report’s release, Liesman and fellow CNBC reporter and commentator Rick Santelli went at it over the issue of future sustained workforce scale up.
Santelli, for those who don’t know the name, was somewhat of a Tea Party Darling during the early years of the Obama administration. From early on, he bashed all of President Obama’s economic and regulatory policies. This morning, the pugilistic Santelli engaged in a row with Liesman over the latest jobs report. Santelli suggested that job gains were weak and that there should have been considerably more scale up. That’s when Liesman took him to school.
Listening in the car to this not-so-friendly exchange on Sirius XM’s CNBC channel this morning harkened me back to the days of my youth watching World Wrestling Federation fights at the New Haven Coliseum, with the Iron Sheik and Classy Freddie Blassie on the fight card as top draws. While I don’t have a transcript of the this morning’s shout fest, I can attest that it reached its low when — as I believe I heard correctly — Santelli razzed Liesman with “You Liberals.”
Great. That’s where we have in May 2018 landed.
Minutes later, and rightly so, Liesman posted this on Twitter:
We’ve reached a dangerous point in our economic history when we can no longer agree on what the jobs report — and what a good jobs number — means.
That said, I think that Liesman is right on-the-mark in his assessment. With retirements and massive shifts in how we do the work that we do, that 164,000 new full-time jobs report is as good as can be expected. Like venture capitalists now say that a $5 million B-round is the new $10 million, we must now get comfortable with the notion that 164,000 job adds is the new 300,000.
More than the shift to STEM and advanced skill hiring requirements, our workforce is no longer predominantly wage and salary earning. Following the 2008 Great Recession, we who were out of full-time employment for extended periods of time (months, years) found work in contract and gig employment. Millennials led the shift to contract or gig work, first out of necessity, but more recently out of a feeling that gigging it — and doing something that for them is truly meaningful — is the future of our workforce. More and more of us want to be happily doing a job that we want to do, with objectives that we set (not a hiring manager or the C-Suite).
I am not an economist, but, after 20 years as a headhunter, during which I placed hundreds of professionals in new jobs, I can attest that the future of our workforce is in meaningful work. Fewer of us will be willing to give up our youthful dreams of doing something fun or meaningful, something that gives us a profound sense of purpose…and is fun. Already, our motivations are shifting away from money and prestige — the motion lotion of Upward Mobility — to solving problems and achieving profound purpose.
As a result, more of us in the workforce are becoming entrepreneurs, self-directed to tackle some vexing environmental or societal problem. And while we will benefit from the STEM and STEAM skills that we acquired in school, our fine skills acquired and subject-matter expertise will not be based on what others want us to have, but what we truly desire.
The BLS numbers may be an accurate measure of people seeking work, but they no longer represent an unemployed or underemployed section of the workforce that wants to do more…and do more meaningfully. We must find a way to bring the BLS into the 21st Century.
Congress, are you listening?
And so so sorry, Rick Santelli. Like the Prez you are stuck in the 1980s with your brick phone in hand and a yellow power tie around your collar. In the past 30 years, the world has changed quite considerably. Brick phones were recycled into iPhones and no one wears ties, anymore.
And the titanic demands of hiring managers for at-the-ready advanced skilled workers means that the days of 300,000 a month gains are a quaint memory. We just don’t have anywhere near the number of high skilled workers that C-suites demand.
Why not let off some steam, Rick? Do pop open a Bud Light, log onto Netfix and watch a vintage 1980s episode of Dynasty.
You always love a good fight.
Our best days lie ahead.
Media credits: Entrprepreneur with Laptop, Getty Images; @SteveLeisman tweet screenshot 5/4/2018; Dynasty Cat Fight, Aaron Spelling Productions, 1981.