Big Retailers, Delivery Firms Face Struggle to Find Holiday Workers – By LAURA STEVENS and LORETTA CHAO Updated Sept. 15, 2015 8:21 p.m. ET

E-Commerce Boom, Low Unemployment Expected to Force Increases in Starting Pay

UPS said during its most recent earnings call that it would better control holiday costs this year.

UPS said during its most recent earnings call that it would better control holiday costs this year. Photo: REUTERS

For the past two years, Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp.and other big retailers have been flinging up warehouses and distribution centers across the country to get their online orders to customers faster.

In the coming holiday sales season, that building spree could come back to bite them—and the companies that deliver their packages.

With the nation’s unemployment rate at a seven-year low as holiday hiring begins to pick up, some retailers and logistics contractors are already struggling to find enough seasonal workers to keep their new facilities humming. Soon, United Parcel Service Inc., FedEx Corp. and smaller regional delivery firms will be facing the same problem.

Employment agencies for retailers and logistics companies say they are having trouble finding warehouse workers to stock early holiday inventory and employees to train for work in fulfillment centers, where holiday orders will be packed and shipped.

Few could have predicted the nation’s unemployment rate would fall to 5.1%, as it did last month, amid such red-hot growth in e-commerce. As a result, retailers and delivery companies expect to have to raise starting pay in some places.

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The Construction Industry Struggles to Rebuild its Worker Ranks – By KRIS HUDSON Sep 11, 2015

While debate rages on about whether demand or supply factors are more to blame for the sluggish home-construction recovery, most industry observers and participants agree on at least one point: Construction labor is in short supply.

Scant availability of skilled construction workers has hampered home construction at various times in the past few years of recovery. But the shortfall seems to have grown more acute of late, as new-home sales are up 21.2% so far this year from the same period last year and commercial construction has increased steadily.

Construction employment isn’t quite keeping pace with that rebound, and workers with certain skills, such as carpenters and sheet-metal installers, are hard to find.

“We are finding a greater failure rate of subcontractors in the industry because they are not able to hire the skilled workers that they need,” said John Finch, chief executive of PBG Builders Inc. in Goodlettsville, Tenn., on a conference call with media on Thursday organized by the Associated General Contractors of America. “That’s resulting in some budget issues and work that has to be redone.”

The Associated General Contractors, the largest U.S. construction-industry association, on Thursday released the results of its survey of 1,358 construction firms about their perspectives on the labor market. Of the respondents, 86% reported difficulty filling jobs for hourly craft workers and salaried supervisors and specialists.

Asked which hourly workers are hardest to find and hire, 73% of respondents cited carpenters, 65% mentioned sheet-metal installers and 63% said concrete workers. In terms of salaried and management employees, 55% of respondents said project managers and supervisors are scarce, 43% mentioned estimating professionals and 34% cited engineers.


Uneven Wages Cast Shadow Over Labor Day – By Andrew Soergel Sept. 7, 2015 | 12:01 a.m. EDT

Labor Day has been around in the U.S. for more than 100 years. So, too, has wage inequality.

Americans' paychecks vary by more than just job titles.

Americans’ paychecks vary by more than just job titles.

Millions of American workers for more than a century have welcomed the beginning of September – and the three-day weekend accompanying it – with open arms, ironically enjoying a day off on a holiday known as Labor Day.

But not everyone is celebrating. A recent Bloomberg BNA poll found that 41 percent of employers will require at least some of their workers to punch in on Labor Day. About 80 percent of firms with at least 1,000 employees will require some of their staffers to work, while only 29 percent of smaller companies said the same.

It’s understandable that not all employee vacation plans in the U.S. are created equal. But as America prepares to celebrate a holiday dedicated to the diverse body of workers that help drive the country’s economy forward, it’s worth taking a step back to look over the labor market’s deeply uneven landscape that extends far beyond workers’ vacation schedules.

Worker pay, for example, is up all over the U.S. Average hourly earnings for private, non-farm workers in August increased 2.2 percent year over year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that doesn’t mean everybody’s 2.2 percent better off now than they were in August 2014.

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Mixed Jobs Report Sets Fed Up for Close Call on Rates – By DAVID HARRISON And JON HILSENRATH Updated Sept. 4, 2015 1:14 p.m. ET

Pace of hiring slows, but unemployment falls to lowest level since 2008


ByDavid Harrison And

Jon Hilsenrath

Updated Sept. 4, 2015 1:14 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—U.S. employment growth slowed in August but the jobless rate fell to the lowest level since 2008, a mixed labor-market reading that leaves the Federal Reserve with a challenging decision on whether to raise short-term rates at its September meeting.

Nonfarm payrolls rose a seasonally adjusted 173,000 in August, the Labor Department said Friday. Revisions showed employers added 44,000 new jobs in June and July than previously estimated.

However, the unemployment rate, which comes from a separate survey of U.S. households, fell to 5.1%, from 5.3% the previous month. The unemployment rate is now lower than at any point since 2008 and right in the middle of the Fed’s long-run projections.

The decline in the unemployment rate strengthens the case for an interest rate increase at the Fed’s Sept. 16-17 meeting. It suggests that slack in the economy is getting eaten up rapidly, which is central to the Fed’s view that inflation will eventually start rising toward its 2% objective after running below the goal for more than three years.

Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker, in a Friday morning speech, called the payrolls gain a strong number. “I’d call this a good, right down the middle of the fairway” jobs report, said Mr. Lacker, a vocal proponent of raising interest rates.

Fed officials have said they will take Friday’s unemployment report into account as they weigh whether to raise interest rates. The August report is the last major indication they will get of the health of the labor market before this month’s meeting.

Economists once thought the Fed was poised to act in September, but recent turmoil in global financial markets has muddied the outlook. And Friday’s report could serve as ammunition both for those Fed officials who want to raise interest rates in September and for those who would prefer holding off.

Although the number of new jobs fell below the 218,000 monthly average recorded between January and July, the unemployment rate is now below the 5.2% to 5.3% range where officials thought it would be by year-end. Moreover, its descent shows little sign of slowing down. It has fallen by one percentage point from a year earlier. In their June projections, Fed officials projected the jobless rate wouldn’t fall much more in the next two years. For example, they projected it would be between 4.9% and 5.1% by the end of 2016 and the end of 2017. It is already effectively there. Broader measures of unemployment which include part-time and discouraged workers also continue to fall.

As the jobless rate falls, faint glimmers of firming in wages might be appearing. Average hourly earnings of private-sector workers rose by 8 cents to $25.09 last month, a 2.2% increase from a year earlier. The gain suggests a mild acceleration in worker’s pay. Wages had been advancing at a modest 2% pace since 2010.

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$7.50 For 1 Day’s Work (Extra Scene from ‘The Fruits of Cheap Labor’) – Vice News Published on Aug 27, 2015

In northern Mexico, farm workers who pick produce bound for US supermarkets earn as little as $7 a day. They follow the harvest, traveling between the states of Sinaloa and Baja California as internal migrants in their own country. With daycare not an option, children join their parents on the job, sometimes working in 100-degree heat.

In this extra scene, farm workers receive their daily wage. For a 52-year-old laborer working six hours a day, her salary is $7.50 — plus a marshmallow.

Read: Mexican Laborers Want Americans to Know Who Picks Their Fruits and Vegetables –

Watch: The Way Americans Eat – The Business of Life (Episode 8) –

China’s 20 Percent Problem

For years now, China has faced the daunting challenge of managing its roughly 260 million “domestic immigrants,” or migrant workers. They flow itinerantly from countryside to cities, where they dwell as second-class citizens and temporary guests with no formal urban status because of a system, known as hukou, that prevents them from settling and easily accessing basic services such as health care, social security, primary education for their children, and decent housing.

At nearly 20 percent of the population, China’s migrants, if they were to form their own country, would constitute the world’s fourth most populous nation. It is a demographic that has grown 30 times over the past 30 years, according to figures from an official Chinese Communist Party (CCP) journal, Seeking Truth, even as total population growth has increased by less than one percent over the same period. Relative to the overall population, the migrant demographic is younger, more mobile, and not particularly smitten with the status quo.

An employee looks up while working along a production line in a factory in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, June 8, 2010.

What’s more, a rising generation of “millennial migrants” aspires to the same lifestyle and opportunities afforded their urban contemporaries. As a result, their expectations are shifting rapidly, increasing the possibility that their accumulated discontents will turn into a volatile force that catalyzes social instability.


The irony of the migrant predicament is that it is the direct result of the CCP’s attempt to ensure stability back in the 1950s, when Chairman Mao Zedong implemented the hukou, or household registration system, to control the ballooning population. It broadly categorized the Chinese population into rural and urban and was strictly enforced to prevent rural farmers from flooding the cities. Under Mao’s statist economy, the rigid form of control was designed in part to keep abundant labor on the farms in order to produce enough food for one billion–plus mouths.

Still, the politics at the time—and which remain today—favored the cities, with the government allocating significantly more resources and benefits to urban China, usually at the expense of rural farmers. It’s what political scientists call “urban bias,” a well-worn strategy that authoritarian governments tend to apply to maintain a tacit alliance with their urban constituencies out of concern that they would be the most likely troublemakers.

Mao, who grew up in rural China, understood that the CCP’s power base resided in urban China. And in fact, the party began organizing vigorously in major Chinese cities early in its existence. Ensuring that the urbanites were happy and satisfied was key to the political system’s staying power and ability to maintain order. As for the rural folks, they tend to be easier to control and have a harder time engaging in collective action that can threaten the regime.

At nearly 20 percent of the population, China’s migrants, if they were to form their own country, would constitute the world’s fourth most populous nation.

Reuters Migrants queue up in lines to board trains, January 15, 2012. 

According to Jeremy Wallace, a professor at Cornell University, that’s because unlike rural populations, “urban areas have high population densities, reducing the costs of large-scale collective action. Proximity to the locus of economic development and industry renders urban protest more politically relevant.” Mao, like authoritarian leaders elsewhere, seemed to intuitively grasp that fact.

The inflexible hukou system may have worked relatively well when China was largely an agrarian economy, at least in terms of imposing control and stability. But it began to creak under the weight of economic reforms in the 1980s, which demanded a more flexible labor market as China focused on industrializing and building a massive manufacturing sector—a growth model that banked on its comparative advantage: abundant labor.

As a result, Beijing had little choice but to relax its restrictions on population movements in tandem with economic reforms, because it needed to tap the rural labor pool to serve the gargantuan infrastructure and manufacturing expansion along the coast. As parallel reforms on Chinese farms freed up labor, workers left rural China in droves and started filling up the factories that dotted the Pearl River and Yangtze River Delta regions. They were the first wave of migrants that came to be known as the “floating population,” which also included the migrant laborers that built Shanghai’s gleaming skyline.

The irony of the migrant predicament is that it is the direct result of the CCP’s attempt to ensure stability back in the 1950s, when Chairman Mao Zedong implemented the hukou, or household registration system, to control the ballooning population.


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Europe’s Largest Migrant Reception Center (Extra Scene from ‘People Smuggling in Sicily’) – Vice News Published on Aug 21, 2015

In June the European Union (EU) responded to the colossal toll of people fleeing war and poverty dying on its borders by launching an 11.8 million euro ($12.8m) per year naval mission. EUNAVFOR Med was launched to tackle human trafficking from North Africa, a major contributor to the migration crisis that has claimed 2,000 lives in the Mediterranean in 2015 alone.

But while the EU has declared war on traffickers in Libya and elsewhere, another trade is booming on its doorstep. Land smuggling preys on desperate migrants and refugees hoping to escape the EU’s Dublin Regulation — whereby people seeking refuge are required to do so in the first country that they set foot in — and illegally cross European borders.

VICE News travels to Sicily, a main stepping stone into Europe, to follow a police operation to arrest suspected smugglers at a boat landing, and meet a former member of a people trafficking network operating between Libya, Egypt, and Italy. We also find out about the land smuggling business of taking people from Sicily to northern Europe, and meet a small group of activists helping newly-arrived migrants and refugees avoid being exploited.

In this extra scene from ‘People Smuggling in Sicily: Europe or Die,’ VICE News visits Europe’s largest migrant reception center, Cara di Mineo. We try to find out if the prospects for migrants who choose the legal route of entering the Italian system are better than for those who attempt illegal smuggling routes into other European countries. What we discover is a segregated migrant city of more than 3,200 frustrated residents, hidden away in a former US army base in the Sicilian countryside.

Watch “People Smuggling in Sicily: Europe or Die” –

The Fruits of Mexico’s Cheap Labor – Vice News Published on Aug 13, 2015

In northern Mexico, farm workers who pick produce bound for US supermarkets earn as little as $7 a day. They follow the harvest, traveling between the states of Sinaloa and Baja California as internal migrants in their own country. With daycare not an option, children join their parents on the job, sometimes working in 100-degree heat.

VICE News travels to northern Mexico and heads into the fields with the laborers to see their working conditions, then meets the organizer leading the fight in the Baja town of San Quintín for better pay and conditions.

Watch: The Way Americans Eat – The Business of Life (Episode 8) –