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Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty
For more than a year, the U.S. jobless rate has hovered right around 4% — including the last three months, when it's been a mind-boggling 3.7%, a half-century low. Fast-growing companies desperate for workers have turned to accepting candidates with lesser skills, a history of drug use and felony records, dispensing with long-held hiring red lines.
Why it matters: If these trends continue, they may begin to whittle away at some of the nation's most stubborn problems — that millions of Americans have given up trying to find work after years of unemployment and a vast number of jobless people are lacking sufficient skills for the quickly advancing economy.
What's happening: For five years, the labor participation rate — the percentage of people aged 16 and up who are working or actively looking for work — has been below 63%, and it has been slowly declining.
The 9-year-old economic expansion has not budged the figure yet, but it has pulled hundreds of thousands of long-term unemployed people into jobs, often at companies where they learn transferable skills. Wages are up 3.1% this year, the first substantial gains in a decade.
Among the little-discussed spillover effects:
"This is win-win for employees and the aggregate economy," says Darrell West, head of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution. "Over time, having a better trained workforce will boost productivity and improve national competitiveness."
Background: For years, one of the industry's biggest gripes has been a shortage of skilled workers, and economists have unflatteringly compared U.S. technical skills with those in Europe and Asia.
But, but, but: Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, tells Axios that research is not clear yet on how much of a lift such conditions provide to workers or the economy.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Governments and workers on both sides of the Atlantic are decrying the outsized influence of big companies. Bill Gates, however, doesn't understand the fuss.
I don't see anyone that is really broken.— Gates, speaking with Axios' Caitlin Owens
Axios' Erica Pandey writes: Gates was in the trenches in 2000 when Microsoft was battling the U.S. government so as not to be broken up for alleged violations of antitrust laws. Now, with the microscope on his competition — Amazon, Google and Facebook — he cautions against what he suggests is a denunciation of bigness for bigness' sake.
What's happening: Regulators and thinkers in the U.S. and Europe are tying bigness to low wages and poor working conditions. They're saying Facebook's and Google's massive troves of data are threats to privacy, not to mention big elections. And they're questioning Amazon's practice of competing against the very small businesses that sell on its platform.
The other side: We emailed Tim Wu, author of "The Curse of Bigness," for a counterpoint. He responded:
"That's a bit surprising, given that Microsoft spent so much time and money arguing that Google was illegally competing with Bing," says Wu, referring to Microsoft's 2011 antitrust complaint against Google's domination of search. "I think we're actually in an era of low-hanging fruit, antitrust-wise."
Meanwhile, Wu suggested whom the government should go after first: the Ticketmaster and Live Nation merger, the AT&T and Time Warner merger, and Big Pharma. In a post at Medium, he provided a more complete antitrust hit list.
Illustration: Caresse Haaser/Axios
The big e-scooter companies have unleashed about 1,000 two-wheelers in Oakland, California — but dozens of them have ended up at the bottom of Lake Merritt, the tidal lagoon in the center of the city, writes Erica.
Crazy stat: E-scooters are part of the electric revolution — meant to get people out of their fossil fuel-propelled cars. But cleanup crews fished 60 scooters out of the lake in just the month of October, reports Slate.
Why it matters: The Lake Merritt Institute says scooters are causing an environmental crisis in Oakland.
Where are Greece's children? (Chico Harlan — WP)
Minimum wage hikes across the U.S. (Felix Salmon — Axios)
Attention as a measure of aliveness (Dan Nixon — Aeon) (h/t Azeem Azhar)
Future of fire: Raking, thinning, replanting (Hal Herring — High Country News)
The most-polluted major country is not China but India (The Economist)
A Ford factory, 1984. Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty
Today is a golden age for automation, but it’s an old idea. Ford was the first to set up an automation department in the mid-20th century, writes Gizmodo's Brian Merchant.
Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports: The idea of an automaton — rooted in the ancient Greek word for "self" — appeared in Homer’s "Iliad," Merchant writes. Various other automata populated Greek myths in the form of handmaidens and warriors.
Moreover, Chinese and Indian myths may have featured bots, said Stanford classics scholar Adrienne Mayor — but many have been lost.