December 2019 Jobs Report and Industry Update

 


Economics & Job Creation:

“THE EMPLOYMENT SITUATION — November 2019”

Life Sciences:
“Specific neurons that map memories now identified in the human brain”

Technology:
“Daily exposure to blue light may accelerate aging, even if it doesn’t reach your eyes”

Healthcare:
“Micro implants could restore standing and walking”

The Industrials:
“Need to safeguard drones and robotic cars against cyber attacks”

Human Capital Solutions, Inc. (HCS) www.humancs.com is a Retained Executive Search firm focused in Healthcare, Life Sciences, the Industrials, and Technology. Visit our LinkedIn Company Page to learn more about HCS and receive weekly updates.

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Economics & Job Creation:

THE EMPLOYMENT SITUATION — NOVEMBER 2019

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 266,000 in November, and the unemployment rate
was little changed at 3.5 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.
Notable job gains occurred in health care and in professional and technical services.
Employment rose in manufacturing, reflecting the return of workers from a strike.

This news release presents statistics from two monthly surveys. The household survey
measures labor force status, including unemployment, by demographic characteristics.
The establishment survey measures nonfarm employment, hours, and earnings by industry.
For more information about the concepts and statistical methodology used in these two
surveys, see the Technical Note.

Household Survey Data

Both the unemployment rate, at 3.5 percent, and the number of unemployed persons, at
5.8 million, changed little in November. (See table A-1.)

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (3.2 percent),
adult women (3.2 percent), teenagers (12.0 percent), Whites (3.2 percent), Blacks
(5.5 percent), Asians (2.6 percent), and Hispanics (4.2 percent) showed little or no
change in November. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more), at 1.2 million,
was essentially unchanged in November and accounted for 20.8 percent of the unemployed.
(See table A-12.)

The labor force participation rate was little changed at 63.2 percent in November. The
employment-population ratio was 61.0 percent for the third consecutive month. (See
table A-1.)

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 4.3 million, changed
little in November. 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 November, 1.2 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, down by
432,000 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 325,000 discouraged workers in November, down
by 128,000 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 921,000 persons marginally attached to the labor force in November
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 rose by 266,000 in November. Job growth has averaged
180,000 per month thus far in 2019, compared with an average monthly gain of 223,000 in
2018. In November, notable job gains occurred in health care and in professional and
technical services. Employment also increased in manufacturing, reflecting the return
of workers from a strike. Employment continued to trend up in leisure and hospitality,
transportation and warehousing, and financial activities, while mining lost jobs. (See
table B-1.)

In November, health care added 45,000 jobs, following little employment change in October
(+12,000). The November job gains occurred in ambulatory health care services (+34,000)
and in hospitals (+10,000). Health care has added 414,000 jobs over the last 12 months.

Employment in professional and technical services increased by 31,000 in November and by
278,000 over the last 12 months.

Manufacturing employment rose by 54,000 in November, following a decline of 43,000 in the
prior month. Within manufacturing, employment in motor vehicles and parts was up by 41,000
in November, reflecting the return of workers who were on strike in October.

In November, employment in leisure and hospitality continued to trend up (+45,000). The
industry has added 219,000 jobs over the last 4 months.

Employment in transportation and warehousing continued on an upward trend in November
(+16,000). Within the industry, job gains occurred in warehousing and storage (+8,000)
and in couriers and messengers (+5,000).

Financial activities employment also continued to trend up in November (+13,000), with
a gain of 7,000 in credit intermediation and related activities. Financial activities
has added 116,000 jobs over the last 12 months.

Mining lost jobs in November (-7,000), largely in support activities for mining (-6,000).
Mining employment is down by 19,000 since a recent peak in May.

In November, employment in retail trade was about unchanged (+2,000). Within the industry,
employment rose in general merchandise stores (+22,000) and in motor vehicle and parts
dealers (+8,000), while clothing and clothing accessories stores lost jobs (-18,000).

Employment in other major industries–including construction, wholesale trade, information,
and government–showed little change over the month.

In November, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose
by 7 cents to $28.29. Over the last 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by
3.1 percent. In November, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and
nonsupervisory employees rose by 7 cents to $23.83. (See tables B-3 and B-8.)

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at 34.4
hours in November. In manufacturing, the average workweek increased by 0.1 hour to 40.5
hours, while overtime decreased by 0.1 hour to 3.1 hours. The average workweek of private-
sector production and nonsupervisory employees held at 33.5 hours. (See tables B-2 and B-7.)

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for September was revised up by 13,000 from
+180,000 to +193,000, and the change for October was revised up by 28,000 from +128,000
to +156,000. With these revisions, employment gains in September and October combined were
41,000 more 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
205,000 over the last 3 months.

_____________
The Employment Situation for December is scheduled to be released on Friday,
January 10, 2020, at 8:30 a.m. (EST).

 

https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

 

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Life Sciences:

“Specific neurons that map memories now identified in the human brain”

An important aspect of human memory is our ability to conjure specific moments from the vast array of experiences that have occurred in any given setting. For example, if asked to recommend a tourist itinerary for a city you have visited many times, your brain somehow enables you to selectively recall and distinguish specific memories from your different trips to provide an answer.

Studies have shown that declarative memory — the kind of memory you can consciously recall like your home address or your mother’s name — relies on healthy medial temporal lobe structures in the brain, including the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex (EC). These regions are also important for spatial cognition, demonstrated? by the Nobel-Prize-winning discovery of “place cells” and “grid cells” in these regions — neurons that activate to represent specific locations in the environment during navigation (akin to a GPS). However, it has not been clear if or how this “spatial map” in the brain relates to a person’s memory of events at those locations, and how neuronal activity in these regions enables us to target a particular memory for retrieval among related experiences.

A team led by neuroengineers at Columbia Engineering has found the first evidence that individual neurons in the human brain target specific memories during recall. They studied recordings in neurosurgical patients who had electrodes implanted in their brains and examined how the patients’ brain signals corresponded to their behavior while performing a virtual-reality (VR) object-location memory task. The researchers identified “memory-trace cells” whose activity was spatially tuned to the location where subjects remembered encountering specific objects. The study is published today in Nature Neuroscience.

“We found these memory-trace neurons primarily in the entorhinal cortex (EC), which is one of the first regions of the brain affected by the onset of Alzheimer ‘s disease,” says Joshua Jacobs, associate professor of biomedical engineering, who directed the study. “Because the activity of these neurons is closely related to what a person is trying to remember, it is possible that their activity is disrupted by diseases like Alzheimer’s, leading to memory deficits. Our findings should open up new lines of investigation into how neural activity in the entorhinal cortex and medial temporal lobe helps us target past events for recall, and more generally how space and memory overlap in the brain.”

The team was able to measure the activity of single neurons by taking advantage of a rare opportunity: invasively recording from the brains of 19 neurosurgical patients at several hospitals, including the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. The patients had drug-resistant epilepsy and so had already had recording electrodes implanted in their brains for their clinical treatment. The researchers designed experiments as engaging and immersive VR computer games and the bedridden patients used laptops and handheld controllers to move through virtual environments. In performing the task, subjects first navigated through the environment to learn the locations of four unique objects. Then the researchers removed the objects and asked patients to move through the environment and mark the location of one specific object on each trial.

The team measured the activity of neurons as the patients moved through the environment and marked their memory targets. Initially, they identified purely spatially tuned neurons similar to “place cells” that always activated when patients moved through specific locations, regardless of the subjects’ memory target. “These neurons seemed only to care about the person’s spatial location, like a pure GPS,” says Salman E. Qasim, Jacobs’ PhD student and lead author of the study.

But the researchers also noticed that other neurons only activated in locations relevant to the memory the patient was recalling on that trial — whenever patients were instructed to target a different memory for recall, these neurons changed their activity to match the new target’s remembered location. What especially excited Jacobs and Qasim is that they could actually decode the specific memory a patient was targeting based on the activity of these neurons.

“Our study demonstrates that neurons in the human brain track the experiences we are willfully recalling, and can change their activity patterns to differentiate between memories. They’re just like the pins on your Google map that mark the locations you remember for important events,” Qasim says. “This discovery might provide a potential mechanism for our ability to selectively call upon different experiences from the past and highlights how these memories may influence our brain’s spatial map.”

Jacobs and Qasim plan next to look for evidence that these neurons represent memories in non-spatial contexts to better characterize their role in memory function. “We know now that neurons care about where our memories occur and now we want to see if these neurons care about other features of those memories, like when they occurred, what occurred, and so on,” Qasim notes.

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/11/191112095740.htm

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Technology:

“Daily exposure to blue light may accelerate aging, even if it doesn’t reach your eyes”

Prolonged exposure to blue light, such as that which emanates from your phone, computer and household fixtures, could be affecting your longevity, even if it’s not shining in your eyes.

New research at Oregon State University suggests that the blue wavelengths produced by light-emitting diodes damage cells in the brain as well as retinas.

The study, published today in Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, involved a widely used organism, Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly, an important model organism because of the cellular and developmental mechanisms it shares with other animals and humans.

Jaga Giebultowicz, a researcher in the OSU College of Science who studies biological clocks, led a research collaboration that examined how flies responded to daily 12-hour exposures to blue LED light — similar to the prevalent blue wavelength in devices like phones and tablets — and found that the light accelerated aging.

Flies subjected to daily cycles of 12 hours in light and 12 hours in darkness had shorter lives compared to flies kept in total darkness or those kept in light with the blue wavelengths filtered out. The flies exposed to blue light showed damage to their retinal cells and brain neurons and had impaired locomotion — the flies’ ability to climb the walls of their enclosures, a common behavior, was diminished.

Some of the flies in the experiment were mutants that do not develop eyes, and even those eyeless flies displayed brain damage and locomotion impairments, suggesting flies didn’t have to see the light to be harmed by it.

“The fact that the light was accelerating aging in the flies was very surprising to us at first,” said Giebultowicz, a professor of integrative biology. “We’d measured expression of some genes in old flies, and found that stress-response, protective genes were expressed if flies were kept in light. We hypothesized that light was regulating those genes. Then we started asking, what is it in the light that is harmful to them, and we looked at the spectrum of light. It was very clear cut that although light without blue slightly shortened their lifespan, just blue light alone shortened their lifespan very dramatically.”

Natural light, Giebultowicz notes, is crucial for the body’s circadian rhythm — the 24-hour cycle of physiological processes such as brain wave activity, hormone production and cell regeneration that are important factors in feeding and sleeping patterns.

“But there is evidence suggesting that increased exposure to artificial light is a risk factor for sleep and circadian disorders,” she said. “And with the prevalent use of LED lighting and device displays, humans are subjected to increasing amounts of light in the blue spectrum since commonly used LEDs emit a high fraction of blue light. But this technology, LED lighting, even in most developed countries, has not been used long enough to know its effects across the human lifespan.”

Giebultowicz says that the flies, if given a choice, avoid blue light.

“We’re going to test if the same signaling that causes them to escape blue light is involved in longevity,” she said.

Eileen Chow, faculty research assistant in Giebultowicz’s lab and co-first author of the study, notes that advances in technology and medicine could work together to address the damaging effects of light if this research eventually proves applicable to humans.

“Human lifespan has increased dramatically over the past century as we’ve found ways to treat diseases, and at the same time we have been spending more and more time with artificial light,” she said. “As science looks for ways to help people be healthier as they live longer, designing a healthier spectrum of light might be a possibility, not just in terms of sleeping better but in terms of overall health.”

In the meantime, there are a few things people can do to help themselves that don’t involve sitting for hours in darkness, the researchers say. Eyeglasses with amber lenses will filter out the blue light and protect your retinas. And phones, laptops and other devices can be set to block blue emissions.

“In the future, there may be phones that auto-adjust their display based on the length of usage the phone perceives,” said lead author Trevor Nash, a 2019 OSU Honors College graduate who was a first-year undergraduate when the research began. “That kind of phone might be difficult to make, but it would probably have a big impact on health.”

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191017101253.htm

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Healthcare:

“Micro implants could restore standing and walking”

When Vivian Mushahwar first applied to grad school, she wrote about her idea to fix paralysis by rewiring the spinal cord.

It was only after she was accepted into a bioengineering program that the young electrical engineer learned her idea had actually prompted laughter.

“I figured, hey I can fix it, it’s just wires,” Mushahwar said. “Yeah, well, it’s not just wires. So I had to learn the biology along the way.”

It’s taken Mushahwar a lot of work over two decades at the University of Alberta, but the Canada Research Chair in Functional Restoration is still fixated on the dream of helping people walk again. And thanks to an electrical spinal implant pioneered in her laboratory and work in mapping the spinal cord, that dream could become a reality in the next decade.

Because an injured spinal cord dies back, it’s not simply a matter of reconnecting a cable. Three herculean feats are needed. You have to translate brain signals. You have to figure out and control the spinal cord. And you have got to get the two sides talking again.

People tend to think the brain does all the thinking, but Mushahwar says the spinal cord has built-in intelligence. A complex chain of motor and sensory networks regulate everything from breathing to bowels, while the brain stem’s contribution is basically “go!” and “faster!” Your spinal cord isn’t just moving muscles, it’s giving you your natural gait.

Other researchers have tried different avenues to restore movement. By sending electrical impulses into leg muscles, it’s possible to get people standing or walking again. But the effect is strictly mechanical and not particularly effective. Mushahwar’s research has focused on restoring lower-body function after severe injuries using a tiny spinal implant. Hair-like electrical wires plunge deep into the spinal grey matter, sending electrical signals to trigger the networks that already know how to do the hard work.

In a new paper in Scientific Reports, the team showcases a map to identify which parts of the spinal cord trigger the hip, knees, ankles and toes, and the areas that put movements together. The work has shown that the spinal maps have been remarkably consistent across the animal spectrum, but further work is required before moving to human trials.

The implications of moving to a human clinical setting would be massive, but must follow further work that needs to be done in animals. Being able to control standing and walking would improve bone health, improve bowel and bladder function, and reduce pressure ulcers. It could help treat cardiovascular disease — the main cause of death for spinal cord patients — while bolstering mental health and quality of life. For those with less severe spinal injuries, an implant could be therapeutic, removing the need for months of gruelling physical therapy regimes that have limited success.

“We think that intraspinal stimulation itself will get people to start walking longer and longer, and maybe even faster,” said Mushahwar. “That in itself becomes their therapy.”

Progress can move at a remarkable pace, yet it’s often maddeningly slow.

“There’s been an explosion of knowledge in neuroscience over the last 20 years,” Mushahwar said. “We’re at the edge of merging the human and the machine.”

Given the nature of incremental funding and research, a realistic timeline for this type of progress might be close to a decade.

Mushahwar is the director of the SMART Network, a collaboration of more than 100 U of A scientists and learners who intentionally break disciplinary silos to think of unique ways to tackle neural injuries and diseases. That has meant working with researchers like neuroscientist Kathryn Todd and biochemist Matthew Churchward, both in the psychiatry department, to create three-dimensional cell cultures that simulate the testing of electrodes.

The next steps are fine-tuning the hardware — miniaturizing an implantable stimulator — and securing Health Canada and FDA approvals for clinical trials. Previous research has tackled the problem of translating brain signals and intent into commands to the intraspinal implant; however, the first generation of the intraspinal implants will require a patient to control walking and movement. Future implants could include a connection to the brain.

It’s the same goal Mushahwar had decades ago. Except now it’s no longer a laughable idea.

“Imagine the future,” Mushahwar said. “A person just thinks and commands are transmitted to the spinal cord. People stand up and walk. This is the dream.”

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191203094810.htm

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The Industrials:

“Need to safeguard drones and robotic cars against cyber attacks”

Robotic vehicles like Amazon delivery drones or Mars rovers can be hacked more easily than people may think, new research from the University of British Columbia suggests.

The researchers, based at UBC’s faculty of applied science, designed three types of stealth attack on robotic vehicles that caused the machines to crash, miss their targets or complete their missions much later than scheduled.

The attacks required little to no human intervention to succeed on both real and simulated drones and rovers.

“We saw major weaknesses in robotic vehicle software that could allow attackers to easily disrupt the behaviour of many different kinds of these machines,” said Karthik Pattabiraman, the electrical and computer engineering professor who supervised the study. “Especially worrisome is the fact that none of these attacks could be detected by the most commonly used detection techniques.”

Robotic vehicles use special algorithms to stay on track while in motion, as well as to flag unusual behaviour that could signal an attack. But some degree of deviation from the travel plan is typically allowed to account for external factors like friction and wind — and it’s these deviations that attackers can exploit to throw the vehicles off course.

The UBC team developed an automated process that enables an attacker to quickly learn the allowed deviations of robotic vehicles running conventional protection systems. Hackers can then use the information to launch a series of automated attacks that the vehicle cannot detect until it’s too late.

“Robotic vehicles are already playing an important role in surveillance, warehouse management and other contexts, and their use will only become more widespread in the future,” says Pritam Dash, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student at UBC and the study’s lead author. “We need safety measures to prevent rogue drones and rovers from causing serious economic, property and even bodily harm.”

The researchers offer the basis for a few such countermeasures — including self-adjusting deviation thresholds — in a recent paper describing their findings. They will present their work at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, next month.

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/11/191127121302.htm

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