September 2018 Jobs Report and Industry Update


Economics & Job Creation:


Life Sciences:
“Finding the sweet spot of a good night’s sleep: Not too long and not too short”

“Could AI robots develop prejudice on their own?”

“A recipe for regenerating nerve fibers across complete spinal cord injury”

The Industrials:
“Engineered sand zaps storm water pollutants”

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Economics & Job Creation:


Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 201,000 in August, and the unemployment
rate was unchanged at 3.9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.
Job gains occurred in professional and business services, health care, wholesale trade,
transportation and warehousing, and mining.

Household Survey Data

The unemployment rate remained at 3.9 percent in August, and the number of unemployed
persons, at 6.2 million, changed little. (See table A-1.)

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (3.5 percent),
adult women (3.6 percent), teenagers (12.8 percent), Whites (3.4 percent), Blacks
(6.3 percent), Asians (3.0 percent), and Hispanics (4.7 percent) showed little or no
change in August. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little
changed in August at 1.3 million and accounted for 21.5 percent of the unemployed.
Over the year, the number of long-term unemployed has declined by 403,000. (See
table A-12.)

Both the labor force participation rate, at 62.7 percent, and the employment-population
ratio, at 60.3 percent, declined by 0.2 percentage point in August. (See table A-1.)

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as
involuntary part-time workers), at 4.4 million, changed little over the month but was
down by 830,000 over the year. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time
employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were
unable to find full-time jobs. (See table A-8.)

In August, 1.4 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, little
different from a year earlier. (Data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals
were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a
job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they
had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. (See table A-16.)

Among the marginally attached, there were 434,000 discouraged workers in August,
essentially unchanged from a year earlier. (Data are not seasonally adjusted.)
Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe
no jobs are available for them. The remaining 1.0 million persons marginally attached
to the labor force in August had not searched for work for reasons such as school
attendance or family responsibilities. (See table A-16.)

Establishment Survey Data

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 201,000 in August, in line with the
average monthly gain of 196,000 over the prior 12 months. Over the month, employment
increased in professional and business services, health care, wholesale trade,
transportation and warehousing, and mining. (See table B-1.)

Professional and business services added 53,000 jobs in August and 519,000 jobs over
the year.

In August, health care employment rose by 33,000, with job gains in ambulatory health
care services (+21,000) and hospitals (+8,000). Health care has added 301,000 jobs over
the year.

Wholesale trade employment increased by 22,000 in August and by 99,000 over the year.
Durable goods wholesalers added 14,000 jobs over the month and accounted for about
two-thirds of the over-the-year job gain in wholesale trade.

Employment in transportation and warehousing rose by 20,000 in August and by 173,000
over the past 12 months. Within the industry, couriers and messengers added 4,000 jobs
in August.

Mining employment increased by 6,000 in August, after showing little change in July.
Since a recent trough in October 2016, the industry has added 104,000 jobs, almost
entirely in support activities for mining.

Employment in construction continued to trend up in August (+23,000) and has increased
by 297,000 over the year.

Manufacturing employment changed little in August (-3,000). Over the year, employment
in the industry was up by 254,000, with more than three-fourths of the gain in the
durable goods component.

Employment showed little change over the month in other major industries, including
retail trade, information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at
34.5 hours in August. In manufacturing, the workweek held steady at 41.0 hours, and
overtime was unchanged at 3.5 hours. The average workweek for production and
nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls was 33.8 hours for the fifth
consecutive month. (See tables B-2 and B-7.)

In August, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose
by 10 cents to $27.16. Over the year, average hourly earnings have increased by 77
cents, or 2.9 percent. Average hourly earnings of private-sector production and
nonsupervisory employees increased by 7 cents to $22.73 in August. (See tables B-3
and B-8.)

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for June was revised down from +248,000
to +208,000, and the change for July was revised down from +157,000 to +147,000. With
these revisions, employment gains in June and July combined were 50,000 less than
previously reported. (Monthly revisions result from additional reports received from
businesses and government agencies since the last published estimates and from the
recalculation of seasonal factors.) After revisions, job gains have averaged 185,000
per month over the last 3 months.


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Life Sciences:

“Finding the sweet spot of a good night’s sleep: Not too long and not too short”

Researchers have found a sweet spot of six to eight hours sleep a night is most beneficial for heart health. More or less is detrimental. Their findings are presented today at ESC Congress 2018.

Study author Dr Epameinondas Fountas, of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre, Athens, Greece, said: “We spend one-third of our lives sleeping yet we know little about the impact of this biological need on the cardiovascular system.”

The study investigated the relationship between sleep duration and cardiovascular disease using a meta-analysis, a statistical tool for combining the results of previous studies on the same topic. The meta-analysis included 11 prospective studies of more than one million adults (1,000,541) without cardiovascular disease published within the last five years.

Two groups, one with short (less than six hours) and another with long (more than eight hours) nightly sleep duration, were compared to the reference group (six to eight hours).

The researchers found that both short and long sleepers had a greater risk of developing or dying from coronary artery disease or stroke. Compared to adults who slept six to eight hours a night, short and long sleepers had 11% and 33% greater risks, respectively, of developing or dying from coronary artery disease or stroke during an average follow-up of 9.3 years.

Dr Fountas said: “Our findings suggest that too much or too little sleep may be bad for the heart. More research is needed to clarify exactly why, but we do know that sleep influences biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation — all of which have an impact on cardiovascular disease.”

A strength of the current analysis is that only prospective studies were included, noted Dr Fountas. This avoids recall bias, a source of systematic error in statistics arising from the inability of participants to accurately recall information.

Dr Fountas concluded: “Having the odd short night or lie-in is unlikely to be detrimental to health, but evidence is accumulating that prolonged nightly sleep deprivation or excessive sleeping should be avoided. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get into the habit of getting six to eight hours a night — for example by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bed, eating healthily, and being physically active. Getting the right amount of sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.”

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“Could AI robots develop prejudice on their own?”

Showing prejudice towards others does not require a high level of cognitive ability and could easily be exhibited by artificially intelligent machines, new research has suggested.

Computer science and psychology experts from Cardiff University and MIT have shown that groups of autonomous machines could demonstrate prejudice by simply identifying, copying and learning this behaviour from one another.

It may seem that prejudice is a human-specific phenomenon that requires human cognition to form an opinion of, or to stereotype, a certain person or group.

Though some types of computer algorithms have already exhibited prejudice, such as racism and sexism, based on learning from public records and other data generated by humans, this new work demonstrates the possibility of AI evolving prejudicial groups on their own.

The new findings, which have been published in the journal Scientific Reports, are based on computer simulations of how similarly prejudiced individuals, or virtual agents, can form a group and interact with each other.

In a game of give and take, each individual makes a decision as to whether they donate to somebody inside of their own group or in a different group, based on an individual’s reputation as well as their own donating strategy, which includes their levels of prejudice towards outsiders.

As the game unfolds and a supercomputer racks up thousands of simulations, each individual begins to learn new strategies by copying others either within their own group or the entire population.

Co-author of the study Professor Roger Whitaker, from Cardiff University’s Crime and Security Research Institute and the School of Computer Science and Informatics, said: “By running these simulations thousands and thousands of times over, we begin to get an understanding of how prejudice evolves and the conditions that promote or impede it.

“Our simulations show that prejudice is a powerful force of nature and through evolution, it can easily become incentivised in virtual populations, to the detriment of wider connectivity with others. Protection from prejudicial groups can inadvertently lead to individuals forming further prejudicial groups, resulting in a fractured population. Such widespread prejudice is hard to reverse.”

The findings involve individuals updating their prejudice levels by preferentially copying those that gain a higher short term payoff, meaning that these decisions do not necessarily require advanced cognitive abilities.

“It is feasible that autonomous machines with the ability to identify with discrimination and copy others could in future be susceptible to prejudicial phenomena that we see in the human population,” Professor Whitaker continued.

“Many of the AI developments that we are seeing involve autonomy and self-control, meaning that the behaviour of devices is also influenced by others around them. Vehicles and the Internet of Things are two recent examples. Our study gives a theoretical insight where simulated agents periodically call upon others for some kind of resource.”

A further interesting finding from the study was that under particular conditions, which include more distinct subpopulations being present within a population, it was more difficult for prejudice to take hold.

“With a greater number of subpopulations, alliances of non-prejudicial groups can cooperate without being exploited. This also diminishes their status as a minority, reducing the susceptibility to prejudice taking hold. However, this also requires circumstances where agents have a higher disposition towards interacting outside of their group,” Professor Whitaker concluded.

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“A recipe for regenerating nerve fibers across complete spinal cord injury”

The adult mammalian body has an incredible ability to heal itself in response to injury. Yet, injuries to the spinal cord lead to devastating conditions, since severed nerve fibers fail to regenerate in the central nervous system. Consequently, the brain’s electrical commands about body movement no longer reach the muscles, leading to complete and permanent paralysis.

But what if it were possible to bridge the gap in the severed spinal cord? What if it were possible to regenerate severed nerve fibers across spinal cord injury?

In a collaboration led by EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) in Switzerland and UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) in the USA, scientists have now understood the underlying biological mechanisms required for severed nerve fibers to regenerate across complete spinal cord injury, bridging that gap in mice and rats for the first time.

Their recipe targets three components for nerve fiber growth to occur. Without one or the other, the recipe simply does not succeed in regenerating new axons in the spinal cord. This three-pronged recipe was designed to reproduce the conditions underlying the growth of nerve fibers during development, leading to a robust regeneration of severed nerve fibers through and beyond a complete spinal cord injury.

“Our aim was to replicate, in adults, the conditions that encourage the growth of nerve fibers during development,” explains senior author Grégoire Courtine of EPFL. “We have understood the combinations of biological mechanisms that are necessary to enable severed nerve fiber regrowth across complete spinal cord injuries in adult mammals.”

By analogy, if nerve fibers were trees, then the terminal branches of the axons can be viewed as the tree’s branches. If the main branches of the tree are cut, little branches may sprout spontaneously along the remaining trunk of the tree. But the cut branches do not grow back.

The same is true for neurons in adults: new branches of severed axons can sprout and make connections above an injury, but the severed part of the axon does not regrow. The 3-pronged recipe uncovered by the scientists changes that, making it possible to regenerate entire axons.

“We’ve regrown forests of axons,” adds Courtine.

To recreate the spatiotemporal conditions of a developing nervous system, the scientists deliver a sequence of growth factors, proteins or hormones, to fulfill the three essential parts of the recipe: reactivate the genetic program for axons to grow; establish a permissive environment for the axons to grow in; and a chemical slope that marks the path along which axons are encouraged to regrow. Within 4 weeks, the axons regrow by several millimeters.

The new axons are able to transmit electricity — and thus neural signals — across the lesion, but this regained connectivity is not enough to restore walking. The rodents remained paralyzed, as anticipated by the scientists, since new circuits are not expected to be functional without the support of rehabilitation strategies.

“We dissected the mechanistic requirements for axon regeneration in the spinal cord, but it doesn’t translate into function,” explains lead author Mark Anderson of EPFL and UCLA. “Now we need to investigate the requirements so that the axons make the appropriate connections with locomotor circuits below the injury. This will entail rehabilitation with electrical stimulation to integrate, tune and functionalize the new axons so that the rodents can walk again.”

Speculating about applications in humans is still premature. For example, the first component of the recipe that stimulates the grown of neurons happens two weeks before injury, so for now, more research must be done for the recipe to be clinically translatable.

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The Industrials:

“Engineered sand zaps storm water pollutants”

University of California, Berkeley, engineers have created a new way to remove contaminants from storm water, potentially addressing the needs of water-stressed communities that are searching for ways to tap the abundant and yet underused source of fresh drinking water.

Using a mineral-coated sand that reacts with and destroys organic pollutants, the researchers have discovered that the engineered sand could help purify storm water percolating into underground aquifers, creating a safe and local reservoir of drinking water for parched communities.

“The way we treat storm water, especially in California, is broken. We think of it as a pollutant, but we should be thinking about it as a solution,” said Joseph Charbonnet, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley. “We have developed a technology that can remove contamination before we put it in our drinking water in a passive, low-cost, non-invasive way using naturally-occurring minerals.”

As rain water rushes over our roofs, lawns and streets, it can pick up a slew of nasty chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, toxic metals, car oil and even dog poop. Excess storm water can also overwhelm sewer systems and flood streets and basements. Not surprisingly, cities often discharge this polluted water into neighboring rivers and streams as quickly as possible.

Directing storm water through sand into underground aquifers may be an ideal solution for gathering water in cities with Mediterranean climates like Los Angeles, Charbonnet said. Like giant rain barrels, aquifers can be filled during periods of intense rainfall and then store water until it is needed in the dry season.

Cities are already using storm water reclamation on smaller scales through constructs such as bioswales and rain gardens, which funnel storm water through sand or mulch to remove debris and prevent surface runoff. In the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles, Charbonnet and his adviser, David Sedlak, are working with the local community to transform a 46-acre gravel pit into a wetland and water infiltration system for storm water.

“Before we built the buildings, roads and parking lots that comprise our cities, rainwater would percolate into the ground and recharge groundwater aquifers,” said Sedlak, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley and co-director of the Berkeley Water Center. “As utilities in water stressed regions try to figure out how to get urban storm water back into the ground, the issue of water quality has become a major concern. Our coated sands represent an inexpensive, new approach that can remove many of the contaminants that pose risks to groundwater systems where storm water is being infiltrated.”

Although the coated sand doesn’t remove all types of contaminants, it may be used in conjunction with other water purification systems to remove many of the contaminants that water picks up, Sedlak said.

The team details the finding Aug. 30 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

To create the coated sand, Charbonnet mixed plain sand with two forms of manganese that react to form manganese oxide. This harmless mineral binds to organic chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, and the endocrine-disrupting bisphenol-A (BPA) and breaks them down into smaller pieces that are usually less toxic and more biodegradable.

“Manganese oxides are something that soil scientists identified 30 or 40 years ago as having these really interesting properties, but we are one of the first groups to use it in engineered ways to help unlock this water source,” Charbonnet said.

The manganese oxide-coated sand, which is a dull brown color, is safe and environmentally friendly. “I guarantee that you have some manganese oxide on your shoe right now because it is ubiquitous in the soil,” Charbonnet said.

Charbonnet tested the sand by percolating simulated storm water, which contained a low concentration of BPA, through columns of the material. The coated sand initially removed nearly all of the BPA, but lost its effectiveness over time. However, the manganese oxide could be “recharged” by bathing the sand in a solution containing a low concentration of chlorine. Recharging the sand restored all of the manganese oxide’s initial reactivity.

“If you have to come in every year or two and dig up this sand and replace it, that is incredibly labor intensive, so in order to make this useful for community stakeholders it’s really important that this stuff can be regenerated in place,” Charbonnet said.

Charbonnet estimates that it would take about two days to recharge a half-meter-deep layer of sand using 25 parts per million of chlorine in water, the concentration used to treat wastewater.

In the next phase of the experiment, the team is performing field tests in Sonoma County using storm water from a local creek.

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