“If You Want To Know What Is Happening in a City, Don’t Read the Headlines. Read the Newspaper Classifieds.”

I was but an earnest graduate in public policy school, hip-deep in academic tomes and pondering worldly thoughts, when a grizzled John Gronouski, WWII vet, former postmaster general and Ambassador to Poland, gave me that advice.

Funny what one remembers from years past and classes gone by, and disco nights better not had. But through the decades that sage wisdom stuck.  Maybe I did learn something in school.

Of course, newspapers have declined, but the online world is alive with classified-site Craigslist and several national job websites, such as Indeed.com.

The New York Times took a page from Gronouski’s book a couple days back, and ran this eyebrow-lifting paragraph regarding the latest jobs report:

“Over the past year, for example, roughly 68,500 ZipRecruiter postings for administrative assistants attracted over 8.1 million applications, or 118 responses on average for every job. The 136,000 warehouse job listings drew over 9.2 million applications, or 68 per job.”

Geography is critical: Lower-wage workers rarely move for a job, so openings in distant places, of course, might not be useful to them. Still, on average, Ms. Pollak wrote in an email, “it is harder (in some sense, at least) to get a job as an administrative assistant, receptionist or warehouse worker than it is to get into Harvard, with its relatively generous 5.2 percent acceptance rate” in 2017.

At the other end of the market, there are severe labor shortages for jobs demanding specialized skills, licensing requirements or tough working conditions. For the roughly 246,000 truck-driver listings on the ZipRecruiter site, there were 12 responses for each job, Ms. Pollak said. For the 237,000 skilled nursing jobs, there were just nine on average.”

This is a market with “severe labor shortages”? Only 12 responses for every open trucker job advertised?  And 68 guys for every warehouse job?

Part of me suspects there is some slack in the labor market.

Back To Gronouski

So I did a Gronouski, and I searched on Indeed.com for jobs in Seattle. This was the first ad to pop up with a recognizable name, position and specified wage:

Customer Service Agent – Full Time – new
Alaska Airlines 288 reviews
Seattle, WA 98194 (Downtown area) +2 locations
$12.65 an hour
We’ve been honored with a variety of awards by readers of Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, USA Today and others….

You can get people to stand behind those counters in airports for $12.65 an hour in Seattle, usher people in, and “help people with baby strollers” among other chores. And wear those sagging polyester uniforms too.

Here is rent in Seattle:

Average Rent In Seattle, Seattle Rent Trends and Rental Comps:
As of August 2018, average apartment rent within 10 miles of Seattle, WA is $2177, reports the website RentJungle.

I won’t do the math, the rent vs. wages. It looks too painful.


Well, making $12.65 an hour working for Alaska Airlines in Seattle may not be Fat City, but these are the best times US employees have seen in more than a decade and, some are saying, the best labor markets in more than 40 years.

But if there are “worker shortages” in Seattle, would the solution be gutting labor markets through a recession, or easing up on property zoning and other impediments to housing construction?

About four decades after Gronouski advised me, I am happy to pass his insights on to macroeconomists and the US Federal Reserve: “Don’t read the headlines. Read the classifieds.”


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