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WAGE DEFLATION IN OUR MIDST

WAGE DEFLATION IN OUR MIDST

Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalistdeflation

As I continue to focus on the real crux of this crisis (consumers) I bring you this excellent bit of research from David Rosenberg who so clearly understands the long-term ramifications of the weak consumer and the inflationary and economic impacts it will have.

A survey conducted by YouGov for the Economist magazine found that 5% of respondents had taken a furlough this year and 15% had accepted a pay cut (see The Recession and Pay: The Quiet Americans on page 33 of this week’s edition).

As wages deflate, workers are looking for ways to supplement their shrinking income base, for example, by moonlighting. Indeed, a poll undertaken by CareerBuilder.com and cited in the USA Today found that one in every ten Americans took on an extra job over the last year; another one in five said they intend to do so in the coming year. These numbers are double for the 45 to 54 year olds who now see early retirement, once around the corner, as an elusive concept.

Most pundits who crow about green shoots and about an inventory restocking in the third quarter giving way towards some sustainable economic expansion live in the old paradigm. They don’t realize, for whatever reason, that the deflationary aftershocks that follow a post-bubble credit collapse typically last for 5 to 10 years. Businesses understand better than the typical Wall Street or Bay Street economist and strategist that everything from order books, to output, to staffing have to now be restructured to adequately reflect a permanently lower level of leverage in the economy.

Indeed, by our estimates, there is up to another $5 trillion of household debt that has to be eliminated in coming years and that process is going to require that consumers go on a semi-permanent spending diet. Companies see this, which is why they are not just downsizing their payroll, but have also cut the workweek to a record low of 33.1 hours. Fewer people are working and those that are still working have seen their hours dramatically cut this cycle.

Companies are finding other ways to save on the aggregate labour cost bill as well, which may be a factor reinforcing the uptrend in the personal savings rate (see more below). For example, a rapidly growing number of employers are now suspending contributions to worker 401(k) plans. According to a joint survey by CFO Research Services and Charles Schwab, nearly 25% of U.S. companies have either suspended their plans or are planning to do so (this is up from 2% at the turn of the year). Again, how we end up squeezing inflation out of the system when the labour market is clearly deflating wages and benefits for the 70% of the economy called the consumer is going to be interesting to watch.

The op-ed column by Bob Herbert in the Saturday New York Times really hit the nail on the head on this whole ‘green shoot’ issue — how can there be ‘green shoots’ when the labour market is deteriorating at such a rapid clip fully nine months after the Lehman collapse. The full brunt of the credit collapse may be behind us, but please, the other two shocks, namely deflating labour markets and deflating home prices, are very much still front and centre. For every job opening in the USA, there are more than five million unemployed actively seeking work vying for those jobs.

That is unprecedented and nearly double what we saw at the depths of the 2001 recession. The official ranks of the unemployed have doubled during this recession to 14 million and if you take into account all forms of labour market slack, the unofficial number is bordering on 30 million, another record. For those who still believe that we somehow managed to avoid an economic depression this cycle because of a 13% fiscal deficit/GDP and a pregnant Fed balance sheet, the Center for Labour Market Studies at Northeastern University estimates that the real unemployment now stands at 18.2%, which is actually higher than the posted rate at the end of the 1930s.

wage deflation

Great stuff as always from Rosenberg.

Source: Gluskin Sheff

Photo source:  The Economist, via Tim Iacono at The Mess That Greenspan Made

 


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