App Economy Continues to Grow

This morning’s employment report confirms that the App Economy continues to grow, while much of the rest of the economy stays weak. The number of people working in computer and mathematical occupations is up by 7.5% over the past year, compared to a 1.1% gain for all other management and professional occupations. Take a look at this chart, which shows the change in employment in all management and professional occupations over the last year.  Two things are striking here. First, computer and mathematical occupations are far outpacing all other management and professional occupations. Second, job growth in many management and professional occupations is actually negative over the past year. 

The worst performance is found among life, physical and social scientists, a group which alas includes economists.  But there is an awful lot of ‘red’ in this chart.

App Economy is ‘job leader’ into the future

Last spring Technet asked me to examine the size of the ‘App Economy’, focusing on the number of jobs being created.  The official job statistics from the BLS were no help, given the speed at which the App Economy was evolving.  Instead, I developed an innovative methodology for using a ’21st century’ database, The Conference Board Help-Wanted OnLine, to track App Economy jobs.

The study, “Where the Jobs Are: The App Economy,”  has just been released by Technet. I found that

 App Economy now is responsible for roughly 466,000 jobs in the United States, up from zero in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced. This total includes jobs at ‘pure’ app firms such as Zynga, a San Francisco-based maker of Facebook game apps that went public in December 2011. App Economy employment also includes app-related jobs at large companies such as Electronic Arts, Amazon, and AT&T, as well as app ‘infrastructure’ jobs at core firms such as Google, Apple, and Facebook. In additional, the App Economy total includes employment spillovers to the rest of the economy

I want to make several points here.

  • In earlier research done for the Progressive Policy Institute, I looked at ‘job leaders’–industries that, coming out of recession,  manage to create new jobs  well before the rest of the economy.  I found that the industries which are the job leaders during a recession tend to be the big drivers of the expansion that follows. So during the recession of 1990-91, the job leaders were infotech services such as software, computer systems design and data processing services, all of which turned out to be big job creators in the tech boom of the 1990s.  Similarly, the job leaders in the recession of 2001 were finance, real estate, and residential construction, signalling the housing and financial job growth from 2001-2007
  • Today, the App Economy is clearly a job leader. It managed to create jobs during the worst recession since the Great Depression, suggesting that the App Economy will be a major driver of  job growth during the coming expansion.
  • The App Economy cross-cuts industries, including  leading internet companies such as Google and Facebook, hardware/software developers such as Apple and Electronic Arts, smaller app developers,  and wireless providers such as AT&T.
  • State and local governments that want to participate in the coming expansion should think about encouraging App Economy jobs. The methodology I used enabled me to identify App Economy jobs by state and MSA. Much more could be done along these lines.
  • The federal government needs to adopt policies to encourage App Economy growth. More about this in my next post.

Gain in Tech Help-Wanted Ads: Good News for Labor Market

After months of stagnation,  labor demand appears to be perking up again, according to the latest data from The Conference Board Help Wanted Online report. Led by gains in ads for tech jobs–otherwise known as computer and mathematical occupations–companies have boosted their demand for workers for the past two months, according to The Conference Board.

It’s fascinating to compare the number of want ads to the number of unemployed workers in different occupations. In tech occupations, there are almost 4 want ads for every 1 unemployed worker. That’s good odds!  And in fact, the unemployment rate for tech occupations dropped from 5.3% in December 2010 to 3.6% in December 2011.

By contrast, in education, training, and library occupations, the ratio is 1 want ad for every 4 unemployed workers. That’s far less favorable, and labor conditions appear to be getting worse. The unemployment rate for education, training, and library occupations rose from 2.7% in December 2010 to 3.3% in December 2011 (not seasonably adjusted).

When the January employment report comes out tomorrow, I will be looking for signs that the tech sector is continuing to lead the labor market out of its slump.

Obama Administration makes crucial pivot on trade and jobs.

Moving into the 2012 election season, the Obama Administration is making a critical  pivot in its political and economic narrative on trade and jobs. During his Midwest trip this summer,  Obama extolled American workers as the most productive in the world,  and talked about free trade treaties as the solution to the job problem. The implication was that nothing was wrong, and the return of jobs was only a matter of time.

But the White House has just issued a new report entitled “Investing in America: Building an Economy That Lasts”  that tells a very different story. The new report starts by saying:

Over the past decade, real business investment in production capacity stagnated.     Economic growth in the U.S. relied far too heavily on an unsustainable boom in residential and commercial real estate fueled by an unchecked financial sector.    The bubble created by this boom distorted our economy and undercut the international competitiveness of our products and services.    Companies increasingly chased low‐cost labor outside of the U.S., moving their manufacturing production, and some of their services, like call centers and software development, abroad.

The report points to the stagnation in business investment, the rising trade deficit, and falling manufacturing employment as real problems.

The dramatic decline in the level of manufacturing employment after 2000 signaled that something fundamental had change

This is an extremely important report, both politically and economically. Economically it points to trade as a major reason for job loss. In particular, it makes the point that the boom pushed up production costs above sustainable levels.

Politically, the report positions Obama in favor of  taking effective steps to bring jobs back to the country. This is a much better stance to run against a Republican like Mitt Romney, since one way that private equity firms cut costs is by outsourcing production overseas.

To me, this report appears to reflect the influence of the new CEA head, Alan Krueger. Krueger, a labor economist, has a realistic idea of how trade has affected the U.S. labor market.

I would suggest that for its next step, the White House should support the idea of a Competitiveness Audit, which identifies the industries where insourcing makes sense, and points out places where more work needs to be done. This would be relatively cheap way of improving the speed of insourcing, and getting more jobs created here more quickly.

Can Insourcing Be A Major Source of Job Creation?

Can insourcing  be a major source of job creation for the U.S.?  The answer is yes, with a caveat. Widespread insourcing–or import recapture, as I like to call it–won’t happen without some help from government policy.  In particular, the main role of the government is to provide better data about the relative cost of insourcing vs outsourcing.

Why would better statistics help create new jobs in the U.S. and accelerate insourcing?  The reason is hysteresis. Hysteresis is defined as  a “lag in response”  when the forces acting on a situation have changed.  Originally hysteresis worked in favor of keeping jobs in this country, because businesses didn’t want to switch their production to a country thousands of miles away, even if it might be cheaper.But now, with production firmly established in China, India, Mexico, and other low-cost countries,  hysteresis is working against the U.S.

As a result,  even if production costs have converged, there are three big obstacles to bringing  jobs back to the U.S.

First, it is expensive to switch suppliers, especially for noncommodity purchases. Contracts have to be negotiated, the quality of the product has to be checked,  suppliers have to be integrated into a supply chain.  Wal-mart would rather work with suppliers that it already has been doing business with.

Second,  it may be expensive and time-consuming to recreate a production ecosystem here in the U.S., especially if an industry has been hollowed out.   That is,  if you want to start making shoes in the U.S.,  it’s easier if you have a repairman in the area who knows have to fix shoe manufacturing machinery.

Third, it may be expensive for small and medium-size companies to determine if switching suppliers will raise or lower costs. That’s especially true if all of their current suppliers are in one country.   Big multinationals can afford to run studies on relative costs of the different countries, but small and medium businesses cannot.

One cheap way of boost insourcing is for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to provide better data about the relative costs of production in the U.S. versus production overseas. The BLS already collects information on import prices and domestic production prices, but it doesn’t compare the two.

Assuming that production costs really are converging,  better information would make it easier for companies to justify the decision to bring jobs back to this country. Right now the safe decision for executives is to continue sourcing from China and India, since they are generally accepted to be ‘low-cost’ countries.  It’s like they used to say, you can’t get fired for buying from IBM.  It’s the same today–execs can’t get fired for buying from China and India, because everyone assumes that prices are lower there.

In November 2011 PPI proposed a Competitiveness Audit, to be done by the BLS, to help boost insourcing of jobs.  For each industry, the Competitiveness Audit would compare import and domestic prices, and give a sense about the size of the gap and whether it was widening or narrowing.  This information would be crucial for identifyng the industries where insourcing makes sense. The Competitiveness Audit would also give executives a sense of security that they were making the right decision by bringing back jobs.

A Competitiveness Audit is a good way of accelerating the rate of insourcing. The goal here is to overcome hysteresis and inertia, and create a sort of bandwagon effect of jobs moving back to this country.  Better information is essential to create new jobs.

Why Obama Needs A Competitiveness Audit

President Obama is talking about ‘insourcing’…bringing jobs back into this country again. That’s great.

But can insourcing really create enough jobs to make a difference? That depends on how on whether  the U.S. is becoming competitive in a  broad range of industries, or whether it’s a limited phenomenon.

That’s why PPI has proposed a Competitiveness Audit as an essential part of a job-creation strategy.

The Competitiveness Audit will compare the price of selected imports with the comparable domestically produced goods and services. That will tell us the size of the ‘price gap’ between imports and domestic production.

The initial results of the Competitiveness Audit will enable us to identify industries that are globally competitive (domestic prices are below import prices, so the price gap is negative); industries that are currently uncompetitive (domestic prices are significantly above import prices); and industries that are ‘near-competitive’ (domestic prices only slightly above import prices).

The results of the Competitiveness Audit will enable businesses and economic development agencies to target their insourcing efforts to industries that are ‘near competitive’, where a bit of government help could make a big difference.

Why We Need A Competitiveness Audit

In a new PPI policy brief, Diana Carew and I have proposed that the government undertake a ‘Competitiveness Audit':

In this global economy, we need to know which industries are internationally competitive, which ones aren’t, and whether the gaps are closing or widening. Unfortunately, the reality is this data currently does not exist. And what we don’t know hurts us, because it prevents us from pursuing effective strategies for boosting US jobs.

Although the government collects reams of economic data, it doesn’t measure what’s most vital to our ability to reverse America’s jobs decline: how our goods and services stack up against those of China and other competitors in terms of price.

You can’t fix what you can’t measure. We need a new national jobs strategy that begins with an accurate way of measuring America’s competitive prowess, on an industry-by-industry basis.

We suggest that at a relatively low cost, a Competitiveness Audit can be used as the basic of a carefully targeted job strategy on both the national and regional levels. If we know what industries are ‘near-competitive’, those are the ones where targeted government help can have the biggest bang for the buck.

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 64 other followers