NYS’s Manufacturing Troubles: Now in Graph Form

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey is in for the month of July, and the numbers continue to go in the shitter.  What is the ESMS?  It’s a survey(PDF) sent out to a variety of manufacturers across the state by the NY Federal Reserve, posing questions about current conditions in terms of employment, orders taken, and also the sense of what the next six months will bring.

If that all seems terribly subjective and indistinct, well, that’s probably because it is.  And if one person’s sense of the future tends to be a bit hazy, then the collective wizdom of several manufacturing business’ secretaries must be equally flawed.  However, what we do get is a sense of the general mood, along with at least some vague notion of how business is going in terms of orders received and filled.

This year’s numbers continue the trend since early 2004, down, down, down.  In fact, the only number going up is the price index, which should surprise no one.  This month’s report does represent a slight up-tick in current conditions compared to last month, as the RBJ’s sunny headline dutifully reports, but in the body of the article they point out that the sentiment in terms of the coming six months is as low as it’s ever been since September 2001.  That’s bad.

And what this all means is a consistent drag on manufacturing employment and wages for the forseeable future.  Until we elect someone with the political will to renegotiate our supposed “free” trade agreements internationally, this trend will doubtless continue – to a greater or lesser degree – locally.


Recession: Do We Need Another Word?

Generally where economic discussions are concerned, I tend to think that the last thing we need to better inform the public is more terms and phrases.  I said God Damn, but they just love the jargon, don’t they?

Still, with Senator Phill Gramm’s “Whiner” talk as context, it seems like perhaps there is a much wider chasm between the words we use to describe our economy and the reality.  Because the word “Recession” doesn’t quite cover what we’re seeing.

As Phil Gramm and George Will both correctly point out, we are not precisely in a recession: a recession is generally marked by economists as a period of two consecutive quarters where GNP falls.  We seem to be see-sawing our way through our current economic crisis, losing one quarter and gaining the next.  But whether or not that actual threshold has passed is immaterial to the pain felt by most average Americans as a result of our current economic situation.  See-sawing we may indeed be doing, but it’s been going on for the last eight years and the trend is generally downward.

One problem that might account for the disparity between economic indicators and public sentiment may be that since American companies produce oil all over the world, $145 a barrel pricing doubtless has some buoying effect on our GNP, obviously without the economic upside for the rest of us.  For the rest of us, that same boon to the oil industry is a hardship.  Another problem is that when the economy does well, we worker bees tend to expect pay raises and such.  But in the stagnant economy of the 21st century, many of us work in companies that have long-since frozen wages.

So, if we’re not in a recession by precise standards, what is it?  Clearly, Phil Gramm’s comments are not well-received, but perhaps more importantly, they depict a very real difference between how Wall Street tycoons and others see the economy as compared to those of us actually living in it.  On a purely political level, I think it’s fantastic that McCain’s camp had to dance around this issue, but it’s the truth of what he said that is most troublesome.

What that word aught to be, I don’t know.  Perhaps “Economic Orphanage” is more appropriate?


The “Hardship Gap” Widens in NYS

While we all wring our hands and wonder why it is so many of our young people are leaving the state, perhaps it would be instructive to consider the latest report on wages in New York:

Report says ‘anemic’ wages affect 5.7 million New Yorkers | Democrat and Chronicle

The report from a labor-backed think tank said that 5.7 million New Yorkers are part of families that face a “hardship gap” in which at least one person has a job but the earnings aren’t enough to cover all basic expenses, including food, rent, utilities, health insurance, transportation and child care.

The proportion of New York families who don’t make enough to pay for these services, 30 percent, is well above the national median of 22 percent and is the highest of any Northeast state, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute report.

The report also goes on to state that a wage of $17 an hour is required in order to keep a family of four afloat. That’s a tall order in many professions, and especially in unskilled labors. Keep in mind also that the national average of 22 percent includes states like Louisiana, Arkansas and West Virginia where grinding poverty exists in ways most of us in this state don’t even fully understand as “America.” That we are so far behind in providing our state citizens – to say nothing of national citizens – a decent living wage is an embarrassment to our name.