Monday, March 07, 2011

Don’t Be Fooled by Psychological Benchmarks on Labor, Oil Prices

Time for B2B marketers to shine

Like the Dow 10,000, the 4-minute mile and the .300 hitter, we’ve always been fascinated with benchmark numbers. Is a .302 hitter really that much better than a .299 hitter? No. Is your 401k really worse off when the Dow dips to 9,992 from 10,003? Of course not.

So, when Friday’s labor report came out about brisk hiring in February pushing the U.S. unemployment rate below 9.0 percent for the first time in nearly two years, forgive us for not popping the champagne corks. Sure an 8.9 percent unemployment rate marks a real milestone not since before the recession, it’s just a number that ignores how much ground the economy has yet to regain. It also hides the more disturbing trend of people dropping out of the labor force—primarily recent graduates and highly experienced workers. That’s the kind of folks we need out there the most—high energy and high experience—whether you’re in software, financial services, driving a bus, hauling waste management or teaching.

NY Times columnist, Paul Krugman, points out today that most of work still being done by humans today is work that can’t be easily automated. That goes for manual labor as well as for white collar information workers. And the tables are shifting on those two fronts as U.S. white collar jobs are increasingly being automated and manual labor jobs are increasingly becoming specialized. Check out Paul’s take on this 21st century conundrum here

One key gauge of the labor market's health—the labor force participation rate, which measures the percentage of adults who have jobs or are seeking them—remains stuck at its lowest point since the mid-1980s. But, as the Wall Journal’s Phil Izzo and Morgan Stanley Economist, David Greenlaw explain, “a low participation rate both saps the economy's long-term growth potential and can obscure deeper problems in the labor market. If, for example, labor force participation today were at the same level as before the recession, the jobless rate would have been 11.5 percent in February.”

As of February, 4.4 million people had been out of work for more than a year. The labor force participation rate stood at 64.2 percent, down from 66 percent in December 2007 when the recession began. We expect the jobless “rate” to go back up over 9 percent in the coming months as formerly discouraged workers rejoin the job hunt process. That’s still a positive sign of slow, steady improvement. Don’t let next month’s jobs report stall you’re hiring or expansion plans.

Impact of $100+ per barrel oil

Unfortunately, employers and consumers must deal with the implications of the rising price of oil, which hit a 2.5-year high, closing at $104.42 a barrel Friday. Is it going to hurt? Yep. Many reliable sources are predicting $4 or $5 per gallon at the pump as we head into peak summer driving season. While Libya accounts for just a small fraction of world oil output—which Saudi Arabia has told us they could easily cover—it’s the uncertainly, not true supply and demand that’s driving this price spike. Unfortunately, rapidly rising prices not only hurt consumers and businesses immediately as it costs more to commute, shop, fly, run their equipment, etc. The price shock cuts into profits, hiring plans and consumer shopping plans as real hourly wages have gone up only one cent this year for those lucky enough to be employed.

Hiring picture brighter for media professionals

Despite all the agita described above, the lift in “intention to hire” is the biggest in 11 years according to researchers at Bernhart Associates who conducted a survey of digital and direct marketers. If the Fed and naturally occurring economic drivers can’t stimulate demand, that’s where great marketing and sales follow up comes in. And no one does that better than U.S. media mavens.


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