Economics & Job Creation
“The Employment Situation — December 2021”
“Zoo air contains enough DNA to identify the animals inside”
“Realistic portraits of squishy layer that’s key to battery performance”
“Mechanism that helps immune cells to invade tissues”
“Engineers develop new software tool to aid material modeling research”
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Economics & Job Creation
“The Employment Situation – December 2021”
THE EMPLOYMENT SITUATION -- DECEMBER 2021 Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 199,000 in December, and the unemployment rate declined to 3.9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment continued to trend up in leisure and hospitality, in professional and business services, in manufacturing, in construction, and in transportation and warehousing. 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. _______________________________________________________________________________________ | | | Revision of Seasonally Adjusted Household Survey Data | | | | Seasonally adjusted household survey data have been revised using updated seasonal | | adjustment factors, a procedure done at the end of each calendar year. Seasonally | | adjusted estimates back to January 2017 were subject to revision. The unemployment | | rates for January 2021 through November 2021 (as originally published and as revised) | | appear in table A at the end of this news release, along with additional information | | about the revisions. | |_______________________________________________________________________________________| Household Survey Data The unemployment rate declined by 0.3 percentage point to 3.9 percent in December, and the number of unemployed persons decreased by 483,000 to 6.3 million. Over the year, these measures are down by 2.8 percentage points and 4.5 million, respectively. In February 2020, prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, and unemployed persons numbered 5.7 million. (See table A-1. See the box note at the end of this news release for more information about how the household survey and its measures were affected by the coronavirus pandemic.) Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (3.6 percent), adult women (3.6 percent), and Whites (3.2 percent) declined in December. The jobless rates for teenagers (10.9 percent), Blacks (7.1 percent), Asians (3.8 percent), and Hispanics (4.9 percent) showed little or no change over the month. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.) Among the unemployed, the number of permanent job losers, at 1.7 million in December, declined by 202,000 over the month and is down by 1.8 million over the year. The number of persons on temporary layoff was little changed at 812,000 in December but is down by 2.3 million over the year. The number of permanent job losers in December is 408,000 higher than in February 2020, while the number on temporary layoff has essentially returned to its February 2020 level. (See table A-11.) The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) declined by 185,000 to 2.0 million in December. This measure is down from 4.0 million a year earlier but is 887,000 higher than in February 2020. The long-term unemployed accounted for 31.7 percent of the total unemployed in December. (See table A-12.) The labor force participation rate was unchanged at 61.9 percent in December but remains 1.5 percentage points lower than in February 2020. The employment-population ratio increased by 0.2 percentage point to 59.5 percent in December but is 1.7 percentage points below its February 2020 level. Over the year, these measures have increased by 0.4 percentage point and 2.1 percentage points, respectively. (See table A-1.) The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 3.9 million in December, decreased by 337,000 over the month. The over-the-year decline of 2.2 million brings this measure to 461,000 below its February 2020 level. 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.) The number of persons not in the labor force who currently want a job was little changed at 5.7 million in December. This measure decreased by 1.6 million over the year but is 717,000 higher than in February 2020. These individuals were not counted as unemployed because they were not actively looking for work during the 4 weeks preceding the survey or were unavailable to take a job. (See table A-1.) Among those not in the labor force who wanted a job, the number of persons marginally attached to the labor force was essentially unchanged at 1.6 million in December. These individuals wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months but had not looked for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. The number of discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached who believed that no jobs were available for them, was also essentially unchanged over the month, at 463,000. (See Summary table A.) Household Survey Supplemental Data In December, the share of employed persons who teleworked because of the coronavirus pandemic was 11.1 percent, little different from November. These data refer to employed persons who teleworked or worked at home for pay at some point in the 4 weeks preceding the survey specifically because of the pandemic. In December, 3.1 million persons reported that they had been unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic--that is, they did not work at all or worked fewer hours at some point in the 4 weeks preceding the survey due to the pandemic. This measure was down from the level of 3.6 million in November. Among those who reported in December that they were unable to work because of pandemic-related closures or lost business, 15.9 percent received at least some pay from their employer for the hours not worked, little changed from the prior month. Among those not in the labor force in December, 1.1 million persons were prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic, little changed from November. (To be counted as unemployed, by definition, individuals must be either actively looking for work or on temporary layoff.) These supplemental data come from questions added to the household survey beginning in May 2020 to help gauge the effects of the pandemic on the labor market. The data are not seasonally adjusted. Tables with estimates from the supplemental questions for all months are available online at www.bls.gov/cps/effects-of-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic.htm. Establishment Survey Data Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 199,000 in December. Job growth averaged 537,000 per month in 2021. Nonfarm employment has increased by 18.8 million since April 2020 but is down by 3.6 million, or 2.3 percent, from its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. In December, employment continued to trend up in leisure and hospitality, in professional and business services, in manufacturing, in construction, and in transportation and warehousing. (See table B-1. See the box note at the end of this news release for more information about how the establishment survey and its measures were affected by the coronavirus pandemic.) Employment in leisure and hospitality continued to trend up in December (+53,000). Leisure and hospitality has added 2.6 million jobs in 2021, but employment in the industry is down by 1.2 million, or 7.2 percent, since February 2020. Employment in food services and drinking places rose by 43,000 in December but is down by 653,000 since February 2020. Employment in professional and business services continued its upward trend in December (+43,000). Over the month, job gains occurred in computer systems design and related services (+10,000), in architectural and engineering services (+9,000), and in scientific research and development services (+6,000). Employment in professional and business services overall is slightly below (-35,000) its level in February 2020. Manufacturing added 26,000 jobs in December, primarily in durable goods industries. A job gain in machinery (+8,000) reflected the return of workers from a strike. Manufacturing employment is down by 219,000 since February 2020. Construction employment rose by 22,000 in December, following monthly gains averaging 38,000 over the prior 3 months. In December, job gains occurred in nonresidential specialty trade contractors (+13,000) and in heavy and civil engineering construction (+10,000). Construction employment is 88,000 below its February 2020 level. Employment in transportation and warehousing increased by 19,000 in December. Job gains occurred in support activities for transportation (+7,000), in air transportation (+6,000), and in warehousing and storage (+5,000). Employment in couriers and messengers was essentially unchanged. Since February 2020, employment in transportation and warehousing is up by 218,000, reflecting job growth in couriers and messengers (+202,000) and in warehousing and storage (+181,000). Employment in wholesale trade increased by 14,000 in December but is 129,000 lower than in February 2020. Mining employment rose by 7,000 in December. Employment in the industry is down by 81,000 from a peak in January 2019. In December, employment showed little or no change in other major industries, including retail trade, information, financial activities, health care, other services, and government. In December, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 19 cents to $31.31. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 4.7 percent. In December, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees rose by 18 cents to $26.61. (See tables B-3 and B-8.) The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at 34.7 hours in December. In manufacturing, the average workweek edged down by 0.1 hour to 40.3 hours, and overtime edged down by 0.1 hour to 3.2 hours. The average workweek for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls edged up by 0.1 hour to 34.2 hours. (See tables B-2 and B-7.) The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for October was revised up by 102,000, from +546,000 to +648,000, and the change for November was revised up by 39,000, from +210,000 to +249,000. With these revisions, employment in October and November combined is 141,000 higher 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.) _____________ The Employment Situation for January is scheduled to be released on Friday, February 4, 2022, at 8:30 a.m. (ET).
“Zoo air contains enough DNA to identify the animals inside”
The air in a zoo is full of smells, from the fish used for feed to the manure from the grazing herbivores, but now we know it is also full of DNA from the animals living there. In the journal Current Biology on January 6th, two research groups have each published an independent proof-of-concept study showing that by sampling air from a local zoo, they can collect enough DNA to identify the animals nearby. This may prove to be a valuable, non-invasive tool to track biodiversity.
“Capturing airborne environmental DNA from vertebrates makes it possible for us to detect even animals that we cannot see are there,” says researcher Kristine Bohmann (@kristinebohmann) and head of the team at the University of Copenhagen.
Terrestrial animals can be monitored in many ways: directly by camera and in-person observation, or indirectly by what they leave behind, like footprints or feces. The drawback to these methods is that they can involve intensive fieldwork and require the animal to be physically present. For example, monitoring animals by camera requires knowledge of where to put the cameras on the animal’s path, sifting through thousands of pictures, and usually a bit of luck.
“Earlier in my career, I went to Madagascar hoping to see lots of lemurs. But in reality, I rarely saw them. Instead, I mostly just heard them jumping away through the canopy.” says Bohmann. “So, for many species it can be a lot of work to detect them by direct observation, especially if they are elusive and live in very closed or inaccessible habitats.”
“Compared to what people find in rivers and lakes, monitoring airborne DNA is really, really hard, because the DNA seems super diluted in the air,” says Elizabeth Clare, lead researcher of the Queen Mary University of London team (Clare is now at York University in Toronto). “But our zoo studies have yet to fail for different samplers, genes, locations, and experimental approaches. All of it worked and surprisingly well.”
Bohmann and Clare draw heavily from their past research monitoring wildlife by collecting other sample types containing DNA shed by animals. This is referred to as “environmental DNA,” or eDNA, and is a well-established technique used most frequently to monitor aquatic organisms by sequencing eDNA from water samples.
“Air surrounds everything, and we wanted to avoid contamination in our samples while optimizing true detection of animal DNA,” says Bohmann. “Our newest work with airborne eDNA involves what we usually do when processing eDNA samples, just tuned up a little bit.”
Each research group conducted their study at a local zoo by collecting samples at various places in the zoo, including inside walled-in enclosures like the tropical house and indoor stables, as well as outdoor enclosures in the open air. “To collect airborne eDNA, we used a fan, like one you would use to cool down a computer, and attached a filter to it. We then let it run for some time,” says Christina Lynggaard (@lynggaardc), first author and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Copenhagen.
The fan draws in air from the zoo and its surroundings, which could contain genetic material from any number of sources, like breath, saliva, fur, or feces, though the researchers have not determined the exact source. “It could be anything that can become airborne and is small enough to continue floating in the air,” says Lynggaard. “After air filtration, we extracted the DNA from the filter and used PCR amplification to make a lot of copies of the animal DNA. After DNA sequencing, we processed the millions of sequences and ultimately compared them to a DNA reference database to identify the animal species.”
“There’s a leap of faith component to some of this because when you deal with regular tissue or even aquatic DNA samples, you can measure how much DNA you have, but with these samples we’re dealing with forensically tiny amounts of DNA,” says Clare. “In many cases, when we only sample for a few minutes we can’t measure the DNA, and so we have to jump to the next stage of PCR where we find out whether there’s any in it or not. When we sample for hours we get more but there is a tradeoff.”
In each study, the researchers detected animals inside the zoo and wildlife from the nearby. Clare’s team from Queen Mary University of London detected DNA from 25 species of mammals and birds, and even DNA belonging to the Eurasian hedgehog, which is endangered in the UK. Bohmann’s team at the University of Copenhagen team detected 49 non-human vertebrate species, including mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, and fish species. These included zoo animals like the okapi and armadillo and even the guppy in a pond in the tropical house, locally occurring animals like squirrels, and pest animals like the brown rat and house mouse. Further, they detected fish species used for feed for other animals in the zoo. Both teams took extensive measures to check that their samples were not contaminated, including by DNA already in their labs.
By choosing a zoo for the location of their studies, the researchers knew the position of a large collection of non-native species, so they could tell the difference between a real signal and a contaminant. “We had originally thought of going to a farm, but if you pick up cow DNA you must ask ‘Is that cow here or is it some cow a hundred miles away or in someone’s lunch?'” says Clare. “But by using the zoo as a model there’s no other way I would detect DNA from a tiger, except for the zoo’s tiger. It lets us really test the detection rates.”
“One thing both our labs do is develop and apply new tools, so perhaps it’s not so surprising that we both ended up with the same idea at the same time,” says Clare.
However, the fact that both research groups are publishing at the same time in the journal Current Biology is far from coincidental. After seeing each other’s articles on a preprint server, the two groups decided to submit their manuscripts to the journal together jointly. “We decided we would rather take a bit of a gamble and say we’re not willing to compete on this,” says Clare. “In fact, it’s such a crazy idea, we’re better off having independent confirmations that this works. Both teams are very eager to see this technique develop.”
“Realistic portraits of squishy layer that’s key to battery performance”
Lithium metal batteries could store much more charge in a given space than today’s lithium-ion batteries, and the race is on to develop them for next-gen electric vehicles, electronics and other uses.
But one of the hurdles that stand in the way is a silent battle between two of the battery’s parts. The liquid between the battery electrodes, known as the electrolyte, corrodes the surface of the lithium metal anode, coating it in a thin layer of gunk called the solid-electrolyte interphase, or SEI.
Although formation of SEI is believed to be inevitable, researchers hope to stabilize and control the growth of this layer in a way that maximizes the battery’s performance. But until now they have never had a clear picture of what the SEI looks like when it’s saturated with electrolyte, as it would be in a working battery.
Now, researchers from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have made the first high-res images of this layer in its natural plump, squishy state. This advance was made possible by cryogenic electron microscopy, or cryo-EM, a revolutionary technology that reveals details as small as atoms.
The results, they said, suggest that the right electrolyte can minimize the swelling and improve the battery’s performance — giving scientists a potential new way to tweak and improve battery design. They also give researchers a new tool for studying batteries in their everyday working environments.
The team described their work in a paper published in Science today.
“There are no other technologies that can look at this interface between the electrode and the electrolyte with such high resolution,” said Zewen Zhang, a Stanford PhD student who led the experiments with SLAC and Stanford professors Yi Cui and Wah Chiu. “We wanted to prove that we could image the interface at these previously inaccessible scales and see the pristine, native state of these materials as they are in batteries.”
Cui added, “We find this swelling is almost universal. Its effects have not been widely appreciated by the battery research community before, but we found that it has a significant impact on battery performance.”
A ‘thrilling’ tool for energy research
This is the latest in a series of groundbreaking results over the past five years that show cryo-EM, which was developed as a tool for biology, opens “thrilling opportunities” in energy research, the team wrote in a separate review of the field published in July in Accounts of Chemical Research.
Cryo-EM is a form of electron microscopy, which uses electrons rather than light to observe the world of the very small. By flash-freezing their samples into a clear, glassy state, scientists can look at the cellular machines that carry out life’s functions in their natural state and at atomic resolution. Recent improvements in cryo-EM have transformed it into a highly sought method for revealing biological structure in unprecedented detail, and three scientists were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their pioneering contributions to its development.
Inspired by many success stories in biological cryo-EM, Cui teamed up with Chiu to explore whether cryo-EM could be as useful a tool for studying energy-related materials as it was for studying living systems.
One of the first things they looked at was one of those pesky SEI layers on a battery electrode. They published the first atomic-scale images of this layer in 2017, along with images of finger-like growths of lithium wire that can puncture the barrier between the two halves of the battery and cause short circuits or fires.
But to make those images they had to take the battery parts out of the electrolyte, so that the SEI dried into a shrunken state. What it looked like in a wet state inside a working battery was anyone’s guess.
Blotter paper to the rescue
To capture the SEI in its soggy native environment, the researchers came up with a way to make and freeze very thin films of the electrolyte liquid that contained tiny lithium metal wires, which offered a surface for corrosion and the formation of SEI.
First, they inserted a metal grid used for holding cryo-EM samples into a coin cell battery. When they removed it, thin films of electrolyte clung to tiny circular holes within the grid, held in place by surface tension just long enough to perform the remaining steps.
However, those films were still too thick for the electron beam to penetrate and produce sharp images. So Chiu suggested a fix: sopping up the excess liquid with blotter paper. The blotted grid was immediately plunged into liquid nitrogen to freeze the little films into a glassy state that perfectly preserved the SEI. All this took place in a closed system that protected the films from exposure to air.
The results were dramatic, Zhang said. In these wet environments, SEIs absorbed electrolyte and swelled to about twice their previous thickness.
When the team repeated the process with half a dozen other electrolytes of varying chemical compositions, they found that some produced much thicker SEI layers than others — and that the layers that swelled the most were associated with the worst battery performance.
“Right now that connection between SEI swelling behavior and performance applies to lithium metal anodes,” Zhang said, “but we think it should apply as a general rule to other metallic anodes, as well.”
The team also used the super-fine tip of an atomic force microscope (AFM) to probe the surfaces of SEI layers and verify that they were more squishy in their wet, swollen state than in their dry state.
In the years since the 2017 paper revealed what cryo-EM can do for energy materials, it’s been used to zoom in on materials for solar cells and cage-like molecules called metal-organic frameworks that can be used in fuel cells, catalysis and gas storage.
As far as next steps, the researchers say they’d like to find a way to image these materials in 3D — and to image them while they’re still inside a working battery, for the most realistic picture yet.
Yi Cui is director of Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy and an investigator with the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) at SLAC. Wah Chiu is co-director of the Stanford-SLAC Cryo-EM Facilities, where the cryo-EM imaging work for this study took place. Part of this work was performed at the Stanford Nano Shared Facilities (SNSF) and Stanford Nanofabrication Facility (SNF). The research was funded by the DOE Office of Science.
“Mechanism that helps immune cells to invade tissues”
To fight infections and heal injuries, immune cells need to enter tissue. They also need to invade tumors to fight them from within. Scientists have now discovered how immune cells protect their sensitive insides as they squeeze between tissue cells. The team lays the foundation for identifying new targets in cancer treatment.
Knowing, when exactly immune cells will try to invade a tumor is difficult. In order to be able to study this cell invasion process in detail, scientists like Professor Daria Siekhaus and her team need something more reliable. That’s why they turn to fruit fly embryos. During the development of these embryos, macrophages, the dominant form of immune cells in the fruit fly, travel from the spot where they are born to the place where they are needed by invading tissue. They do so at a certain time point, enabling scientists to study the process within these tiny transparent animals. With the help of IST Austria’s state-of-the-art Bioimaging Facility, they watch as the macrophages — marked with a green fluorescent protein — push their way into the tissue.
Creating an armor
Which cellular changes are needed for this and which genes trigger such alterations is still largely unknown. With their new study by first authors Vera Belyaeva, Stephanie Wachner, and Attila Gyoergy, the Siekhaus group sheds light on this process, essential in health and disease. “Previously, we found that a specific gene, called Dfos, is enriched in the immune cells and we wondered what it did,” says Siekhaus.
“Now we can prove that it triggers the assembly of actin filaments.” These protein threads are concentrated at the inside of the cell membrane, also known as cell cortex, giving the cell surface stability. The scientists show that through a complex cascade involving different proteins, the actin filaments are made denser and more connected to each other, forming a stable shell. “We hypothesize that this works like a tank, deforming surrounding cells while protecting the immune cell’s nucleus from mechanical pressure as it invades the tissue,” Siekhaus explains. Furthermore, the team was able to show in vivo that missing this actin shell makes it harder for immune cells to infiltrate unless the surrounding tissue is made softer.
Strengthening immune cells to fight cancer
Although a fruit fly and vertebrates such as mice and humans do not have much in common at first glance, there are many similarities in the way their genes function. Working together with Professor Maria Sibilia from the Medical University of Vienna, the researchers at IST Austria found evidence that the vertebrate gene Fos, the equivalent to the fruit fly gene Dfos, activates the same genetic pathways. “We think that the same mechanism we found in the fruit fly also plays a role in vertebrates,” says biologist Daria Siekhaus.
This raises the hope that the group’s findings could help identify new targets for the treatment of cancer. In the field of immuno-oncology, researchers are looking for ways to activate the body’s immune system to attack a tumor. One of the challenges they face, is to enable the immune cells to infiltrate the tumor. “If one could strengthen their protective shell, it could make it easier for them to invade the tumor tissue,” Siekhaus concludes.
“Engineers develop new software tool to aid material modeling research”
A new software tool can accelerate materials science research by cutting out tedious background research on material properties. Penn State and Sandia National Laboratories researchers recently debuted propSym, an open-source software on the programming platform MATLAB, to calculate the fundamental constants needed to describe the physical properties of solids, such as metals, ceramics or composites.
Researchers input a material’s physical characteristics and structure, and the program produces its fundamental property constants — key values researchers need to model various materials.
“Some physical models contain hundreds or thousands of redundant components, which can make the model overwhelming,” said Anubhav Roy, a doctoral student in engineering science and mechanics in the Penn State College of Engineering and first author on the paper. “The program is able to greatly reduce the number of components for any physical property that is connected to solids with inherent crystalline symmetry.”
The researchers developed propSym, the details of which were published in the Journal of Applied Crystallography, after they could not find reliable information about langasite — a material used in sensing and energy harvesting devices — in a separate joint study with Sandia National Labs.
“Traditionally, the relationships between fundamental constants and material symmetries are found only in appendices of textbooks or tables in journal articles,” said Christopher Kube, assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State, who led the project. “After a thorough search, we were not able to find reference data for several nonlinear material properties for langasite. When data were available, we found instances of typos and inconsistencies across references. Incorrect input data will ruin a model.”
Kube and his collaborators used propSym to determine the properties of langasite, such as elasticity and the ability to accumulate electric charge. But Kube emphasized the program is not limited to those two properties alone.
“The software is adaptable to nearly any physical property of interest; the possibilities really are endless,” Kube said. “Ultimately, I hope propSymhelps to lower the entry barrier for analytical modeling of complex physical behavior. A lot of modern problems in the sciences often are deemed too challenging for analytical models without serious consideration of an analytical approach.”