Washington Insider-- Thursday

The Pandemic and Long Term Jobs Growth

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

Vilsack Meets With Mexican, Canada Ag Leaders

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack held virtual discussions Tuesday with Mexican Secretary of Agriculture Victor Villalobos and with Canadian Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau.

Vilsack said on Twitter that Mexico is “not only a key trading partner, but also an important collaborator as we address climate change and food security.” The two committed to boosting scientific and technological cooperation at all levels on agriculture. Villalobos said that the objective “is to achieve better production and guarantee food security.”

Vilsack said that the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico was “strengthened with the Treaty between Mexico, the United States and Canada (T-MEC), which gained relevance in the context of the pandemic.” Vilsack also said that the two sides will “work to increase the productivity, with sustainable practices of all farmers, and in reaching being self-sufficient in the North America region.”

Relative to his discussion with his Canadian counterpart, Vilsack said he expected to work with her on “climate smart food and forest practices and delivering science-based solutions to help mitigate and reduce climate change.” From the Canadian side, Bibeau said they agreed on a mutual interest in championing rules- and science-based international trade, with both sides agreeing that working on those issues is key for agriculture, according to the Canada Newswire.

“Secretary Vilsack and I share many priorities and we committed to supporting each other's efforts to build a sustainable agricultural sector that strengthens our rural economies, and feeds our people at home and abroad,” Bibeau said in a statement. There was little mention on either side relative to trade issues between the parties such as dairy and Canada and products like potatoes with Mexico.

However, Villalobos will be visiting Washington to discuss issues like biotechnology, fertilizer management, and trade issues such as U.S. access to the Mexico market for fresh potatoes and Mexican access to the U.S. market for avocados from Jalisco, according to a report from marketresearchtelecast.com.

Vilsack Signals He Backs Food Box Program, But With Adjustments

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has come out in favor of the Farmers to Families Food Box program, albeit with some tweaks.

“I think that I have been convinced that there are a number of areas — remote areas in particular — that have been served by this program where people have received fresh fruits, vegetables and other products that they might not otherwise have gotten but for the program,” Vilsack told Politico in an interview this week. “I like that aspect of what's happened with this program. I am a little concerned about the fact that there seems to be quite a significant difference between the level of reimbursement for people who are administering the program and implementing the program. That is a concern. At the end of the day, you want as many dollars going into the boxes, as opposed to into the pockets of the people filling the boxes. I think there needs to be an examination of that.”

In remarks Wednesday, Vilsack would not comment on whether the program would run beyond April. However, the effort has won the backing of key lawmakers like Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., further raising expectations the effort will be a part of the food/nutrition programs ahead.

Washington Insider: The Pandemic and Long Term Jobs Growth

Projecting how many people will work in hundreds of detailed occupations in 2029 is a bold exercise — even without the uncertainty of the pandemic.

However, the New York Times this week said that U.S. Department of Labor experts attempt to do just that. And their latest assessment of which jobs will grow over the next decade has alarming implications for jobs requiring less education — while also forecasting a boom for epidemiologists and other health-science jobs, the Times said.

That assessment, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, emphasizes all the uncertainty that accompanies projections and it stresses that these are estimates of structural changes, not forecasts of cyclical booms and busts. Long-term projections are often wrong, especially for more volatile sectors like mining and construction, but the agency's estimates are typically well reasoned and sober.

The original BLS projections, made last year without taking pandemic effects into account, called for cumulative economy-wide job growth of 3.7% from 2019 to 2029. The new pandemic-informed projections cut that to 2.9% in the “moderate impact” pandemic outlook and 1.9% in the “strong impact” one.

Both of these new outlooks assume more remote work and higher demand for relevant technology services; less in-person entertainment and travel; and more investment in public health than would have happened without the pandemic.

In the “strong impact” projection, there would be 25% more epidemiologists in 2029 than the original baseline projection for 2029, the largest increase among nearly 800 detailed occupations. The 10 occupations with the biggest increase in projected employment relative to the baseline projection are all in medical, health-science and technology fields. The 10 occupations with the largest declines relative to the baseline projection include restaurant, hotel and transportation jobs.

On balance, the new projections modestly speed up the occupational shifts from the original baseline projections. For instance, the pandemic is poised to accelerate the originally projected fast growth in software developer jobs and to hasten a previously expected decline in cashier jobs.

The projected employment changes because of the pandemic are concentrated in a relatively small number of sectors. Three-quarters of all jobs are in occupations where projected employment in the strong-impact scenario differs from the original baseline scenario by less than 2%.

For the most part, the sectors originally projected to grow fastest over the next decade in the baseline projection—like nurse practitioners, home health aides and many other health care occupations—are still projected to grow fastest.

Similarly, the sectors originally projected to shrink most—such as administrative assistants, mail carriers and product inspectors—are still projected to decline similarly in the pandemic-affected scenarios. Across all occupations, the correlation between employment growth in the original projection and the strong-impact pandemic projection is 0.92—with a correlation of 1 representing a perfect relationship.

The sectors facing additional job loss because of the pandemic tend to be low-wage sectors where workers are already struggling. The strong-impact pandemic projection shows the lowest-paying occupations losing jobs over the decade. This would be a significant shift from the original pre-pandemic projections, in which growth was greatest in the highest- and lowest-wage occupations, with middle-wage occupations lagging. The pandemic could end up replacing polarized growth with a net loss of lower-wage jobs.

Grouping occupations by educational requirements instead of wages tells a similar story. For jobs requiring a bachelor's or graduate degree, projected upbeat employment growth remains nearly the same under the pandemic-affected picture as in the original baseline. The decline in projected employment growth because of the pandemic is almost entirely concentrated in jobs requiring only a high school diploma or no diploma.

Still, the pandemic makes forecasting a risky business, the Times notes. Near-term projections of GDP or unemployment hinge on things like the rate of virus mutations and vaccine distribution. Longer-term predictions depend on how much the pandemic permanently changes how we work and spend.

But the pandemic has already widened existing inequalities; these new projections suggest that the unequal effect on jobs could long outlast the pandemic.

So, we will see. As the Times noted, long term forecasting is always tricky business. And while the specific trends and rates are almost always wrong, the process is considered highly useful for its descriptions of the factors affecting the changes. In addition, the article notes to a strong degree the factors that give competitors for good jobs a leg up likely will continue to be important to agriculture and other sectors and should be watched closely by producers as they emerge, Washington Insider believes.

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