January’s jobs report was so good that The Atlantic declared it to be ‘without a blemish.’ Job creation remained strong and wages grew as well. I agree that there was a lot to like about it, but it also strikes me that the enthusiasm it’s generated is a bit unsettling because it shows me how far our expectations have been diminished.

At first glance, job growth looks quite torrid. The New York Times noted that “Since Nov. 1, employers have hired more than one million new workers, the best performance over a three-month period since 1997.” This sounds a bit better than it is: we need to keep in mind that there are also a lot more Americans of working age now than there were in the 1990s, so we need to generate more jobs just to hold steady.

To see this, I used FRED to graph monthly job growth as a percentage of the working age US population:


Screenshot 2015-02-09 16.53.00

This graph shows a steady and encouraging upward trend since the end of the recession, but it also clearly shows that the rate of job creation has been well below what we experienced during the non-recession years of the 1980s and 90s.

And even though the jobs news is good and getting better, labor force participation remains quite low by historical standards, and has been generally declining even since the end of the great recession:

Screenshot 2015-02-09 16.57.00

This decline seems to have leveled off over the past year, but there’s not much evidence yet that it’s reversing itself.

The more underwhelming trend is that of wage growth. Here’s year-over-year wage growth for the past few years:

Screenshot 2015-02-09 17.01.13

Here again, we see an uptick over the past year, but  only a small one.

Data for front line workers goes back a bit farther, and shows that wage growth is significantly lower than it’s been in the past. These workers have also seen a pretty sharp wage growth decline over the past few months:

Screenshot 2015-02-09 17.05.28

So while the January employment news is unquestionably good, there’s still a lot of room for it to get better. When I look at the participation and wage growth rates, I get the impression there’s still a lot of slack in the labor force.

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The Second Machine Age and the Velvet Underground

by Andrew McAfee on December 12, 2014

Today we got the happy Screenshot 2014-12-12 13.45.22news that The Second Machine Age was named one of the best books of the year by Bloomberg. Their methodology for putting together their list was interesting: they just asked a lot of heavy hitters in finance, industry, and public affairs what their favorite books were.

I’m flattered to see what our book was among the most cited. Mohamed El-Erian, Dominic Barton, Jeff Sachs, Tim Adams, and and Pippa Malmgren all gave it a shout-out, which is a great feeling.

The Second Machine Age hit the bestseller lists, but it hasn’t been a runaway commercial hit. We’re very pleased with the sales, but there haven’t been millions of them (at least not yet, he wrote hopefully…).

If you can’t have millions of readers you’d at least like to have highly influential ones, and as the Bloomberg list indicates we do, I think. I’ve already dropped enough names for one post, so let me just say that I’ve been floored by the number of very senior and/or very smart people who have had good things to say about 2MA.

It’s said about the Velvet Underground that only a few thousand people bought their albums, but every one of them went out and started a band. If we and 2MA can have that same kind of influence — if we can inspire people to change how they’re running their companies, thinking about policy, educating their students, and so on — the book will have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

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Enterprise 2.0, Finally?

November 20, 2014

Facebook’s recent announcement that it’s readying a version of its social software for workplaces got me thinking about Enterprise 2.0, a topic I used to think a great deal about. Five years ago I published a book with that title, arguing that enterprise social software platforms would be valuable tools for businesses. The news from […]

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Why Is Customer Service Still So Lousy (Financial Services Web Design Edition)?

November 10, 2014

A while back I set up autopayment on the Citi credit card I used for business expenses, and it’s been working fine. Recently, however, I ran up so many travel expenses in a month that I hit my credit limit (the clearest sign yet that I’ve been on the road too much). So in order […]

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This Saturday: The Glass Cage Match at the Boston Book Festival

October 20, 2014

I’ve been involved with the Boston Book Festival since Deborah Porter founded it in 2009, and it’s become one of my favorite events of the year. And since I had a for-real mainstream published book come out this year (as opposed to a self-published glorified pamphlet) I get to participate this year as a full-fledged […]

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Business Book of the Year? Maybe. Public Talk Next Week? Definitely.

September 26, 2014

Yesterday we got the good news that The Second Machine Age had been shortlisted for the FT and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award. Erik and I are floored and very flattered, and looking forward to the award dinner in London in November. I’m pretty sure we’ll watch Thomas Piketty another author hoist the trophy, […]

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Technology Spending Is On Its Way Down. Or It Isn’t. Or It Doesn’t Matter.

September 3, 2014

My MIT colleague David Autor delivered a wonderful paper at the recent Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium about American job and wage patterns in recent decades, and their link to the computerization of the economy. I’ll say more later about his paper, which was one of the highlights of the event for me (sighting this […]

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MIT’s Second Machine Age Conference in September: Sign up Now

August 21, 2014

I am sorry to brag, but this really is an all-star lineup. If you’re at all interested in technological progress and its implications for our businesses, economies, and societies, you should attend the 2014 Second Machine Age conference. It’s being held on September 10 and 11 at the gorgeous MIT Media Lab building, and organized […]

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The Clearest Trend in the American Workforce Is Not an Encouraging One

August 14, 2014

It’s been a while since I posted data on US employment trends, so here’s a chart created with FRED’s snazzy new graphing interface. It shows the employment rate (in other words, 100 – the standard unemployment rate) in blue, the employment-to-population ratio (the % of working-age people with work) in green, and the labor force […]

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When Using Your Smartphone Can Be the Best Thing for Your Mental Health

August 7, 2014

My last post here took on Zeynep Tufekci and, by extension, others who believe the current trend of using robots and other forms of advanced technology for caregiving is, as she put it, “an abdication of a desire to remain human, to be connected to each other through care, and to take care of each other.”  I […]

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