Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

NAPC Conference, Day Two

Last night at the NAPC conference we had a nice reception where Irv Katz, from the National Human Services Assembly, addressed us on some of the critical issues they're addressing -- you can see what's on their policy agenda here: National Assembly

After a series of participant introductions this morning (fascinating work being done around the country and Canada by members), the focus turned to where we are now economically. Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute addressed us.

Heidi -- "The Recession is Over -- but over for whom?"

In past recessions, quick bounce-back in employment after the recession -- until the last two recessions. In early  1990s, "jobless recovery" term was coined. In early 2000s, recession ended with a 'job-loss recovery." That's what we're facing now -- jobless (or perhaps job-loss) recovery. So the key benchmark isn't GDP growth but unemployment rate -- now 9.7 nationally, will likely continue to rise through the end of thisyear and will reach its peak then --we're not going to feel like a recovery util next year.

Now we're in the calm after the storm, looking at the damage in the labor market. We've lost over 8 million jobs, but population rising -- so we need to add on the order of 100,000 jobs a month just to keep unemployment stable. Overall, we're really down 11 million jobs (job losses + labor market growth) to get to pre-recession unemployment levels.

Layoffs are now down to pre-recession levels -- that's good. But hiring has not picked up -- that's bad. In fact, the peak of the business cycle in 2007 is still worse than the pre-recession late 1990s -- we hit this current recession in the worst shape with the least cushion of any prior recession (post-Depression).

After recession of the 1990s was over, had year and a half of increasing unemployment before it started to improve. The same thing in the early 2000s. We're seeing the same thing now. (And that's not counting the discouraged workers!)

In fact, when we add in the unemployed, involuntary part-time, and marginally employed workers, we're up to 17 percent underemployment -- up from around 7 in 2000. Largest increase isn't in discouraged workers  (which is still a big increase) but in involuntary part-timers. "The huge involuntary part-time is a threat to reducing unemployment." Employers who cut hours, not workers, to cut costs, means that employers can increase production by adding hours, not workers, further delaying any new hiring. And when jobs do pick up, 3 million more people will enter into the labor market if the labor market participation returns to normal -- meaning job growth won't move the dial on unemployment rate for a while.

The overall unemployment rate masks other issues. Men have been harder hit than women in the recession. Racial and ethnic minorities hit harder than whites. People with less education getting hit harder too. Young workers hit much harder -- nearly 20 percent of 16 to 24 unemployed. Older workers, on the other hand, have been slammed on the wealth  front (housing value, retirement funds), while younger workers are slammed in the labor market.

In labor market, the chart seems to show that best case scenario is older white college-educated woman -- hardest hit is young black male without high school education.

This summer people leaving school now face the worst labor market in 70 years. (Sucks to be born in the 80's, and not just because of the music and hair!) We're also looking at a 8-10 year swath of long-term unemployment for younger people. Without summer jobs, what are young people going to do with their time? School enrollment going up, but not matching the growth in non-labor market participation. Growth in Nene's -- not enrolled, not employed.

Seeing increased labor market participation among older workers -- because of attack on wealth, people not retiring. Stock market improvement might help unemployment rate.

Long-term unemployment recession -- shattering every record for length of unemployment. We haven't reached the peak of unemployment in the 80s recession, but the length of unemployment is unprecedented. Number of job seekers per  job opening is huge -- 5.5 people per job. So extending unemployment insurance doesn't keep people from taking jobs -- there aren't jobs for them to take.

"The worst recession since the Great Depression? Absolutely."

The recession started out super-mild, until Lehman Brothers -- the collapse of the financial market accelerated the recession to unbelievable levels -- at one point losing 700,000 jobs a month. Also twice as many people in the country now since the Great Depression -- principle of large numbers say the impacts in places with the large numbers affected has an exponential effect.

What's in store? We do not have to settle for permanently high unemployment. But the short and medium term are going to be ugly. Recovery will take a long time. To fill the 11 million jobs gap, we would need 1 million new jobs a month to fill it in 1 year. To fill in 5 years, we would need nearly 300,000 jobs a month (every month!) The latest "really good news" had 167,000 new jobs in a month. Projections: 10.1 unemployment averaged this year, 9.5 next year, 8 in 2012, 2013 6.3 percent unemployment -- still worse than the worst year of the early 2000s recession.

Again, communities are facing long-term ugly unemployment and it could take much longer to fill the jobs gap. Projections still based on people behaving the same way they did before the recession -- but people aren't behaving the same way, and not retiring when projected because they can't afford to. And social security is in trouble.

Clear relationship between unemployment rates and family income. Real family middle income has been hammered. The 2000s recovery never got family income back to pre-recession levels, and now with this recession even in 2015 the typical family income will not get back to where it was at the low point of the early 2000s recession, let alone as high as it was in the pre-2000s recession time. There's no upward pressure on wage growth, and won't be for a while.

Overall poverty rate around 15 percent -- not dropping down to turn-of-the century rates by 2015. And  for kids it's worse, and for racial and ethnic minorities worse -- about 1/3 black poverty rate now, perhaps down to 24 percent in 2015.

So what should be done? Communities are going to be suffering a lot for at least the next five years -- things will get better over time. National level answer? Heidi says it's more stimulus dollars, and much more. Real, measurable GDP change with the Recovery Act -- estimated 2.5 million more job losses without it, is on track to reach 3-4 million jobs, just wasn't on the right scope of this crisis. Really need something on the scope of $1.5 trillion.

Can we afford it? What about the deficit? 2 time horizons: short-term and long-term. A key way to bring the deficit down is to deficit-spend to create jobs. What has added to the deficit? Increases in the deficit: Bank bailout: $184 billion (TARP) about 15 percent increase in deficit. 15 percent ($181 billion) is stimulus. $841 billion is the recession -- high unemployment, low income, business loss, resulting in fewer taxes paid. So deficit-spend to create taxpayers is the long-term solution to deal with the deficit, according to Heidi Shierholz.

We need to bail out state and local governments. The most job bang for the buck is state fiscal relief. Because states must balance the budget, they have to either raise taxes or cut services, and both of them drain the economy. National stimulus packages would otherwise just fight against "50 Herbert Hoovers" at the state level counterbalancing economic stimulus efforts with economic drains.

"This recession, make no mistake, was the bursting of the housing bubble -- the bursting of an $8 trillion housing bubble is what creates something like this." And the roots of the problems go back through multiple political administrations.

(Then we got talking about the intersection of economics and politics, and folks got really, really depressed. I won't even go there.)

Heidi's presentation will be available at For those of us at the conference, the presentation challenges us to re-examine what community planning and community-based work looks like. For those who like economic indicators, check out the charts in Heidi's presentation and think about the economic indicators you might be using in your community to monitor these changes -- and how you might best tell the story of the unprecedented impacts of this recession.

ETA: Here's Heidi's presentation: click here


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