The ending to little Ralphie's "A Christmas Story" Would be a little different around here this year. You see, the Chinese restaurant that had been located a block from my hovel closed down the other day. It was a large place and had been located there for a decade or more but eating out is a luxury these days. Instead of Merry Christmas, the signs of the season are "going out of business."
I went Christmas shopping the other day, not that I was buying, I just went along. What surprised me was the lack of help, and even more, the lack of customers. We went to a big box electronics retailer, they had one model flat screen television on sale. They had about fifty of the sets stacked against a wall and I wondered how many the store had originally. I saw large supplies of X-Box 360's on display but it didn't appear to be a hot item.
It appears that this will be a bathrobe and sweater Christmas. The economy added only 39,000 jobs in November. The number of unemployed from October to November grew by 276,000 to a total of 15.1 million workers. The number of hours worked remains flat which indicates doing more with fewer workers. No holiday overtime and strangely, the retail trade lost 28,000 workers in November. General merchandise down 14,500, department stores down 8,800 employees while sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores shed 3,600 workers. It sure doesn't look much like Christmas time.
Even the air transportation industry shed 800 workers. I don't know, maybe its a year's worth of radiation per flight or the storm trooper groping just for the privilege of flying to Grandma's that's just too much for some people. Food and beverage stores laid off 1,800 and furniture stores laid off nearly 5,000 people. These numbers are in a month, thirty days. Thirty days until Christmas and the numbers are rolling backwards.
Why are all these people still losing their jobs?
Job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs: up 390, 000 in thirty days.
Permanent job losers: up 138,000 in thirty days.
!,651 mass layoffs accounted for another 148,059 job losses.
"Government registered over-the-year increases in mass layoff events and initial claims. Year-to-date initial (unemployment) claims totals through October for government are the highest on record." BLS December 3rd
Still there is some good news, American workers produced more per hour and third quarter productivity is up 2.6 percent! Hourly compensation increased by 1.4 percent, so in terms of real compensation, wages rose at two tenths of one percent! Unit labor costs for employers declined by 1.1 percent.
The numbers are bad and getting worse. The economy is bad and getting worse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics can crow about 39,000 new jobs while ignoring job losses that dwarf gains. They can ignore that the economy adds fifty to seventy thousand new workers per month but they can no longer ignore the cold critical picture coming into focus.
I remember my father telling me about when he was a boy in the thirties. There was a strike that started at Thanksgiving and continued until New years. His dad was the shop steward and my dad was around twelve or thirteen. I still remember how my dad's tone of voice changed when he said, "Guess what I got for Christmas?"