Recovery and Jobs; Where's the Next Bubble?

The phrase, “surviving a game show” just became more serious.

According to USA Today — I know, not the most hard-hitting rag out there — contestants on shows like America’s Got Talent and Deal or No Deal have undergone a dramatic change in the past year.

Instead of dreaming of building a mansion or retiring early, the poor saps that go on those shows are now just hoping to win some kind of money to keep afloat. On Deal or No Deal, the percentage of unemployed prospective players jumped from just 5% of its total applicants to 20%.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire’s host, Meredith Vieira, claims that her contestants no long play for big prizes. They’re there to collect a few mortgage payments or to help pay off credit cards.

Apparently, the market’s recent fake recovery hasn’t ended this game show contestant trend. Vieira notes, “There’s still a sense of need, as opposed to want.”

This could spell disaster for marketing these shows. No one wants to watch desperate people cashing out early so they don’t have to move.

“Mustn’t Watch TV” aside, you shouldn’t be surprised by the still-pathetic situation out there. After all, one of the favorite buzz phrases on CNBC is “lagging indicator.” Forget that the phrase is an oxymoron for a moment. It’s applied to – more than anything else – unemployment numbers.

We have seen a slow down in job losses, which is to say that we aren’t losing jobs in this country as fast as we were. July even saw a slight increase in employment. I suspect a portion of that tiny bump is due to people giving up. If you aren’t applying for jobs, you no longer count.

We like to think of unemployment as a percentage. But it’s important to put the actual number of would-be-workers into perspective.

We have about 14.5 million unemployed people in the U.S. — at least 14.5 million reported unemployed people. Of those, we have a significant amount that has been in that situation for more than half a year.

As this chart shows, that’s the most people on the dole since the Second World War:

This begs the question: if we do ever recover, where will these new jobs come from?

Where’s Our Next Bubble?

Speculating about which industries will provide future jobs is still damned near impossible. Could Obama’s “green tech” jobs ever come to fruition? Possibly, but it won’t be in the near future. Right now, no one can even afford those kinds of products.

Even with amazing developments in turbine technology over the past few years, it still costs about 67% more for wind power than it does for coal or nuclear power. So for electrical engineers, there might be jobs in the R&D stage of this “green revolution.” For the majority of the 14.5 million unemployed, however, that’s of no help.

It’s doubtful that we’ll see a real recovery in manufacturing jobs. That’s one segment in serious trouble. We didn’t even see it recover during the boom from its 2001 lows.

Technology is one area with some potential. Americans’ need for the latest digital toy hasn’t dissipated in this rough economy. Sure, no one can afford new plasma TVs, but just take a look at AT&T’s iPhone 3G sales this summer. Pretty impressive.

We aren’t going to stash our life savings into Apple, but we are keeping our eyes peeled to see what comes next.

The energy sector, of course, needs a recovering economy to be of importance. It’s certainly not going to lead us out of our recession. Once we do recover, however, drills will once again meet the dirt and create some jobs. But right now, we’re seeing a lot of abandoned wells across our country.

We could always just pile back into the financial services industry and pretend the past two years were a dream. Unfortunately, that’s quite possible knowing how forgetful that crew is.

Wherever new jobs come from – if they come at all – and no matter which industry leads the way, we need to keep a careful watch over every sector. As you can see in one of our favorite charts, if you know which sectors are heading in which direction, you stand to make a lot of money:

There’s no doubt we’ll replace the financial bubble with another one – just like we did with the tech bubble in the 90s. So…where’s our next bubble?

Jim Nelson

September 7, 2009