Jobs by the numbers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor produces a report at the beginning of every month that documents the statistical trends in the labor force for the previous month. This report could accurately be said to “set the tone” for financial markets worldwide; in implicit and explicit ways, such reports “set the tone” here on campus, too. The people who first jump to mind are my senior friends for whom coming back to campus and being lauded with reminders of their final year on campus before heading into “the real world” means spending some time thinking about their individual impending forays into the job market. The report released at the beginning of September, which I’ll discuss here, detailing August jobs action, was not particularly peppy nor intimidating; it was, however, insightful into yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s economies. Do the graduates of this coming spring have a booming job market to look forward to in August 2014? Booming? Probably not. Better? Probably.

When the Class of 2014 was getting ready to come to college in August 2010, unemployment was at 9.5 percent, holding steady from August 2009’s 9.6 percent. Since then, it has steadily fallen to the latest figure, 7.3 percent in August 2013. Were we hopeful that the economy would be all better by the time we graduated from college? Were we concerned about our employment prospects after graduation? Frankly, many of us were probably overconfident, fresh from a (presumably) successful end to the arduous college admission process, sure that intelligent Williams grads like ourselves would have no issue finding employment in four years – an unimaginably far away time when we’d no longer be teenagers and would be able to legally buy drinks at the bar. However, everyone’s respective senior years of high school must have been at least implicitly marked by the dismal job market and dreadfully slow economic recovery. The 18-month long recession that had plagued our junior and part of our sophomore years had only ended in June 2009.

The best we could tell those kids would be that the recovery process would be sluggish. That in some ways the purple bubble would be oddly immune to the economic struggles of the day. Though it will be evident to everyone that we are not living in booming economic times, the bar will continue to be packed on Saturday nights, the new library will eventually be completed and though our school will not have to cut its policy to meet all demonstrated need, the fact that other elite institutions will is an unfortunate reality. However, that you are aware that the economy sucks will and should make you ask some questions and have some frank conversations about the economy, the free market and money in America, questions that you and perhaps the privileged classes of the 1990s otherwise might not have asked.

What is happening today is that jobs slowly continue to be added to the economy. August 2013 created 169,000 new jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This number was lower than many predictions by economists, including the Dow Jones consensus forecast of economists that expected an addition of 180,000 jobs (Cronin, The Wall Street Journal). Important (and optimistic) to include are the rises in weekly hours and average hourly wage (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The reality behind these numbers is complicated. Unemployment fell from July’s 7.4 percent to 7.3 percent, but this was at least in part caused by the departure of 312,000 people from the labor force (Bureau of Labor Statistics). This number is troubling, and in August 2013, the rate of Americans participating in the labor force was at its lowest since August 1978 (Kurtz, CNN). This means that while more and more people are entering federal and state retiree support programs every day, we have the lowest labor force participation to support them in 35 years.

However, another part of the complicated reality behind the job numbers, the underemployment rate, is more optimistic. The underemployment rate, which reflects part-time workers who prefer full-time jobs, those who’ve stopped looking for work and the unemployed fell to 13.7 percent from 14 percent in July (Bureau of Labor Statistics). This rate reflects the bright fact that the number of people working part-time for involuntary economic reasons has fallen by 152,000 since August 2012 (Furman, White House) and has hit a four and a half year low (Mutikani, Reuters).

What this all means for those who will graduate in the spring is obviously complicated. What I am certain of is this: The economy has gotten better, is likely to continue getting better, and one is far better off graduating from Williams this spring than the most unfortunate Classes of 2009 and 2010. Beyond the literal truth that they will not have to enter the workforce at the lowest points in the market meltdown and recovery, seniors graduating this spring have been able to plan their time as undergrads more effectively. Internship opportunities being offered by companies are generally on the rise, and participation rates in internships by students are also increasing, along with the amount of recruiting employers do from their existing intern pools (Dewan, The New York Times). Students who spent their time at Williams after the recession did, I hypothesize, spend a greater portion of their time here planning for their time after Williams, especially through internships.

Carmen Linero ’16 is a philosophy major from Harrison, N.Y. She lives in West.

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