U.S. employment cratering at a less breakneck speed

New U.S. employment numbers out this morning indicate things are getting worse at a less-breakneck pace. A mere 345,000 Americans lost their jobs in the month of May.

The New York Times sunnily reports that the numbers are "a welcome sign that the decline in the job market would not continue forever."

People will say this means the recession is bottoming out. They will call it a green shoot. They will glass-half-full it. Pollyannaism is Pollyannaism. 

But the report is dismal: that graph on the front web page of the New York Times shows change, not the absolute unemployment. The employment-to-population ratio is under 60 percent, the underemployment number is 16.4 percent, and unemployment is worse than the provisional numbers used the stress tests. 

Plus, a Deutsche Bank report notes, "the length of the workweek declined by 0.1 hour to 33.1 hours, which is the aggregate hour equivalent of an additional loss of about 350k jobs" -- making May look much more like April.  

Still, there are signs that even if the employment numbers in the U.S. are really bad, things worse elsewhere. Here's a fascinating graph from Stratfor:



The chart is missing a few key countries, most notably China. (Stratfor says it did not include China because its economy is too different to compare. Fair point.) Stratfor argues the recession is hitting the U.S. much more softly because "the American system is far more stable, durable and flexible than most of the other global economies, in large part thanks to the country’s geography."

It makes some sense: each country's economy grows to take advantage of its geography. Russia, with its massive oil and gas reserves, benefited from the massive surge in commodity prices through 2008; it has been hit hard since because the economy is highly dependent on that one industry. The U.S. economy is much more resource- and industry-diverse.

I wonder what Robert D. Kaplan would have to say about all of this...which countries' have advantageous geographies for downturns? Is this why Australia seems to be doing relatively well?

(h/t The Monkey Cage and Ezra Klein)


China to cheaters: you're being watched

Cheating on the gaokao, China's national college entrance exam, has been a perpetual nuisance for test officials for years. A combination of parental pressure, rampant ambition and the highly competitive nature of the exam have contributed to rising dishonesty among millions of test-takers:

The penalties [for cheating] are severe: a student convicted of peeking at a neighbor's paper is never allowed to take the gaokao again, and his name is entered in a public database for prospective employers' perusal.

Still, every year some students come up with innovative efforts to beat the system — 3,000 were caught last year alone. Before this year's gaokao, police raids in the industrial city of Shenyang turned up "cheating shoes" outfitted with radio transmitters."

Chinese educators are beginning to wisen up, however. Ahead of next week's administration of the 2009 gaokao, video cameras are being installed in as many as 60,000 exam rooms.