Economics & Job Creation
“The Employment Situation — September 2021”
“Recommendations on handling changes in the life sciences”
“Smuggling light through opaque materials”
“Sunlight exposure guidelines may need to be revised”
“A robot that finds lost items”
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Economics & Job Creation
“The Employment Situation – September 2021”
THE EMPLOYMENT SITUATION -- September 2021 Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 194,000 in September, and the unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage point to 4.8 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Notable job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, in professional and business services, in retail trade, and in transportation and warehousing. Employment in public education declined over the month. 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 The unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage point to 4.8 percent in September. The number of unemployed persons fell by 710,000 to 7.7 million. Both measures are down considerably from their highs at the end of the February-April 2020 recession. However, they remain above their levels prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (3.5 percent and 5.7 million, respectively, in February 2020). (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 (4.7 percent), adult women (4.2 percent), Whites (4.2 percent), and Blacks (7.9 percent) declined in September. The jobless rates for teenagers (11.5 percent), Asians (4.2 percent), and Hispanics (6.3 percent) showed little change over the month. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.) Among the unemployed, the number of permanent job losers declined by 236,000 to 2.3 million in September but is 953,000 higher than in February 2020. The number of persons on temporary layoff, at 1.1 million, changed little in September. This measure is down considerably from the high of 18.0 million in April 2020 but is 374,000 above the February 2020 level. The number of reentrants to the labor force decreased by 198,000 in September to 2.3 million, after increasing by a similar amount in August. (Reentrants are persons who previously worked but were not in the labor force prior to beginning their job search.) (See table A-11.) The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) decreased by 496,000 in September to 2.7 million but is 1.6 million higher than in February 2020. The long-term unemployed accounted for 34.5 percent of the total unemployed in September. The number of persons jobless less than 5 weeks, at 2.2 million, changed little. (See table A-12.) The labor force participation rate was little changed at 61.6 percent in September and has remained within a narrow range of 61.4 percent to 61.7 percent since June 2020. The participation rate is 1.7 percentage points lower than in February 2020. The employment- population ratio, at 58.7 percent, edged up in September. This measure is up from its low of 51.3 percent in April 2020 but remains below the figure of 61.1 percent in February 2020. (See table A-1.) In September, the number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 4.5 million, was essentially unchanged for the second month in a row. There were 4.4 million persons in this category in February 2020. 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 6.0 million in September, little changed over the month but up by 959,000 since February 2020. These individuals were not counted as unemployed because they were not actively looking for work during the last 4 weeks 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 edged up to 1.7 million in September, following a decline in the prior month. 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 450,000 in September, little changed from the previous month. (See Summary table A.) Household Survey Supplemental Data In September, 13.2 percent of employed persons teleworked because of the coronavirus pandemic, little changed from the prior month. These data refer to employed persons who teleworked or worked at home for pay at some point in the last 4 weeks specifically because of the pandemic. In September, 5.0 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 last 4 weeks due to the pandemic. This measure is down from 5.6 million in August. Among those who reported in September that they were unable to work because of pandemic-related closures or lost business, 15.5 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 September, 1.6 million persons were prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic, little changed from August. (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 increased by 194,000 in September. Thus far this year, monthly job growth has averaged 561,000. Nonfarm employment has increased by 17.4 million since a recent trough in April 2020 but is down by 5.0 million, or 3.3 percent, from its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. In September, notable job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, in professional and business services, in retail trade, and in transportation and warehousing. Employment in public education declined over the month. (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 increased by 74,000 in September, with continued job growth in arts, entertainment, and recreation (+43,000). Employment in food services and drinking places changed little for the second consecutive month, compared with an average monthly gain of 197,000 from January through July. Employment in leisure and hospitality is down by 1.6 million, or 9.4 percent, since February 2020. Professional and business services added 60,000 jobs in September. Employment continued to increase in architectural and engineering services (+15,000), management and technical consulting services (+15,000), and computer systems design and related services (+9,000). Employment in professional and business services is 385,000 below its level in February 2020. In September, employment in retail trade rose by 56,000, following 2 months of little change. Over the month, employment gains occurred in clothing and clothing accessories stores (+27,000), general merchandise stores (+16,000), and building material and garden supply stores (+16,000). These gains were partially offset by a loss in food and beverage stores (-12,000). Retail trade employment is 202,000 lower than its level in February 2020. Employment in transportation and warehousing increased by 47,000 in September, in line with gains in the prior 2 months. In September, job gains continued in warehousing and storage (+16,000), couriers and messengers (+13,000), and air transportation (+10,000). Employment in transportation and warehousing is 72,000 above its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. Employment in the information industry increased by 32,000 in September. Gains occurred in motion picture and sound recording industries (+14,000); in publishing industries, except Internet (+11,000); and in data processing, hosting, and related services (+6,000). Employment in information is down by 108,000 since February 2020. In September, social assistance added 30,000 jobs, led by a gain in child day care services (+18,000). Employment in social assistance is 204,000 lower than in February 2020. Employment in manufacturing increased by 26,000 in September, with gains in fabricated metal products (+8,000), machinery (+6,000), and printing and related support activities (+4,000). These gains were partially offset by a decline of 6,000 in motor vehicles and parts. Manufacturing employment is down by 353,000 since February 2020. Construction employment rose by 22,000 in September but has shown little net change thus far this year. Employment in construction is 201,000 below its February 2020 level. In September, employment in wholesale trade increased by 17,000, almost entirely in the durable goods component (+16,000). Employment in wholesale trade is down by 159,000 since February 2020. Mining employment continued to trend up in September (+5,000), reflecting growth in support activities for mining (+4,000). Mining employment has risen by 59,000 since a trough in August 2020 but is 93,000 below a peak in January 2019. In September, employment decreased by 144,000 in local government education and by 17,000 in state government education. Employment changed little in private education (-19,000). Most back-to-school hiring typically occurs in September. Hiring this September was lower than usual, resulting in a decline after seasonal adjustment. Recent employment changes are challenging to interpret, as pandemic- related staffing fluctuations in public and private education have distorted the normal seasonal hiring and layoff patterns. Since February 2020, employment is down by 310,000 in local government education, by 194,000 in state government education, and by 172,000 in private education. Employment in health care changed little in September (-18,000). Job losses occurred in nursing and residential care facilities (-38,000) and hospitals (-8,000), while ambulatory health care services added jobs (+28,000). Employment in health care is down by 524,000 since February 2020, with nursing and residential care facilities accounting for about four-fifths of the loss. In September, employment showed little change in financial activities and in other services. Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 19 cents to $30.85 in September, following large increases in the prior 5 months. In September, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees rose by 14 cents to $26.15. The data for recent months suggest that the rising demand for labor associated with the recovery from the pandemic may have put upward pressure on wages. However, because average hourly earnings vary widely across industries, the large employment fluctuations since February 2020 complicate the analysis of recent trends in average hourly earnings. (See tables B-3 and B-8.) In September, the average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 0.2 hour to 34.8 hours. In manufacturing, the average workweek was unchanged at 40.4 hours, and overtime edged up by 0.1 hour to 3.3 hours. The average workweek for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 0.1 hour to 34.2 hours. (See tables B-2 and B-7.) The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for July was revised up by 38,000, from +1,053,000 to +1,091,000, and the change for August was revised up by 131,000, from +235,000 to +366,000. With these revisions, employment in July and August combined is 169,000 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 October is scheduled to be released on Friday, November 5, 2021, at 8:30 a.m. (ET).
“Recommendations on handling changes in the life sciences”
Modern high-throughput screening methods for analysing genetic information, proteins and metabolic products offer new ways of obtaining large quantities of data on life processes. These OMICS technologies, as they are known, are fuelling hopes of major advances in medicine, pharmacy, biochemistry, the food sciences and related fields. However, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina has expressed concerns that Germany is failing to keep abreast of these developments. The Report on Tomorrow’s Science entitled “Life sciences in transition” sets out six recommendations on how existing deficiencies can be overcome and research and teaching better equipped for the challenges of modern life sciences.
OMICS technologies help today’s life scientists collect very large quantities of data on the genetic material, proteins and metabolic products of organisms. The extensive data will pave the way for new research approaches in developing individualised therapies, more productive crops and tailored microorganisms for applications such as cosmetics, medicine and food production. So far, however, the full potential of these enormous data stocks has hardly been exploited. The “Life sciences in transition” report therefore recommends closer cooperation between the life sciences and disciplines such as mathematics, computer science and engineering in handling big data.
“The opportunities now open to the life sciences are redefining requirements for the training of young researchers, for technical and IT equipment, networks between university and non-university research institutes, and the sustainable development of infrastructure,” says Prof. Jörg Hacker, President of the Leopoldina. According to the report, Germany is not sufficiently prepared for the challenges that are emerging in the life sciences. The recommendations include setting up a national OMICS and IT infrastructure and providing targeted support to young researchers in this field.
The Report on Tomorrow’s Science issued by the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina addresses topics connected to the medium and long-term development of science that are particularly relevant to the relationship between science, politics and society. The paper was produced by one of the Leopoldina’s standing committees. Leopoldina committees help shape current scientific discussion in their specific field, advise on topics that are important for the future, and propose topics for discussion with policymakers and society.
“Smuggling light through opaque materials”
Electrical engineers at Duke University have discovered that changing the physical shape of a class of materials commonly used in electronics and near- and mid-infrared photonics — chalcogenide glasses — can extend their use into the visible and ultraviolet parts of electromagnetic spectrum. Already commercially used in detectors, lenses and optical fibers, chalcogenide glasses may now find a home in applications such as underwater communications, environmental monitoring and biological imaging.
As the name implies, chalcogenide glasses contain one or more chalcogens — chemical elements such as sulfur, selenium and tellurium. But there’s one member of the family they leave out: oxygen. Their material properties make them a strong choice for advanced electronic applications such as optical switching, ultra-small direct laser writing (think tiny rewritable CDs) and molecular fingerprinting. But because they strongly absorb wavelengths of light in the visible and ultraviolet parts of electromagnetic spectrum, chalcogenide glasses have long been constrained to the near- and mid-infrared with respect to their applications in photonics.
“Chalcogenides have been used in the near- and mid-IR for a long time, but they’ve always had this fundamental limitation of being lossy at visible and UV wavelengths,” said Natalia Litchinitser, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke. “But recent research into how nanostructures affect the way these materials respond to light indicated that there might be a way around these limitations.”advertisementhttps://www.swoop-assets.com/Nerlynx_NPI/puma-hcp-banner-target-300×250/puma-hcp-banner-300×250.html
In recent theoretical research into the properties of gallium arsenide (GaAs), a semiconductor commonly used in electronics, Litchinitser’ s collaborators, Michael Scalora of the US Army CCDC Aviation and Missile Center and Maria Vincenti of the University of Brescia predicted that nanostructured GaAs might respond to light differently than its bulk or even thin film counterparts. Because of the way that high intensity optical pulses interact with the nanostructured material, very thin wires of the material lined up next to one another might create higher-order harmonic frequencies (shorter wavelengths) that could travel through them.
Imagine a guitar string that is tuned to resonate at 256 Hertz — otherwise known as middle C. The researchers were proposing that if fabricated just right, this string when plucked might also vibrate at frequencies one or two octaves higher in small amounts.
Litchinitser and her PhD student Jiannan Gao decided to see if the same might be true for chalcogenide glasses. To test the theory, colleagues at the Naval Research Laboratory deposited a 300-nanometer-thin film of arsenic trisulfide onto a glass substrate that was next nanostructured using electron beam lithography and reactive ion etching to produce arsenic trisulfide nanowires of 430 nanometers wide and 625 nanometers apart.
Even though arsenic trisulfide completely absorbs light above 600 THz — roughly the color of cyan — the researchers discovered their nanowires were transmitting tiny signals at 846 THz, which is squarely in the ultraviolet spectrum.
“We found that illuminating a metasurface made of judiciously designed nanowires with near-infrared light resulted in generation and transmission of both the original frequency and its third harmonic, which was very unexpected because the third harmonic falls into the range where the material should be absorbing it,” Litchinitser said.
This counterintuitive result is due to the effect of nonlinear third harmonic generation and its “phase locking” with the original frequency. “The initial pulse traps the third harmonic and sort of tricks the material into letting them both pass through without any absorption,” Litchinitser said.
Moving forward, Litchinitser and her colleagues are working to see if they can engineer different shapes of chalcogenides that can carry these harmonic signals even better than the initial nanostrips. For example, they believe that pairs of long, thin, Lego-like blocks spaced certain distances apart might create a stronger signal at both third and second harmonic frequencies. They also predict that stacking multiple layers of these metasurfaces on top of one another might enhance the effect.
If successful, the approach could unlock a wide range of visible and ultraviolet applications for popular electronic material and mid-infrared photonic materials that have long been shut out of these higher frequencies.
“Sunlight exposure guidelines may need to be revised”
Previously published solar exposure guidelines for optimal vitamin D synthesis based on a study of skin samples may need to be revised, according to new research published today in PNAS.
A study by researchers from King’s College London, with support from the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre, has tested the optimum ultraviolet radiation (UVR) wavelengths for human skin production of vitamin D in sunlight.
UVR from sunlight can cause sunburn and skin cancer, however, it is the most important source of vitamin D that is essential for healthy bone development and maintenance.
Public health advice on sunlight exposure takes both risk and benefits into account. Calculating the potential risks and benefits from sunlight exposure is not simple because the health outcomes from UVR exposure vary considerably with wavelength within the sun’s UVR spectrum. For example, the sun’s UVR contains less than 5% short wavelength UVB radiation but this is responsible for over 80% of the sunburn response. Each health outcome from solar exposure has its own unique wavelength dependency.
The association between specific UVB wavelengths and vitamin D production was determined more than thirty years ago in skin samples (ex vivo). However, the finding is less well established and there have been doubts about its accuracy. These doubts compromise risk/benefit calculations for optimal solar exposure.
Researchers led by the Professor Antony Young from King’s College London measured blood vitamin D levels in 75 healthy young volunteers, before, during, and after partial or full body exposure to five different artificial UVR sources with different amounts of UVB radiation, to weigh the trade-off between the benefits of solar exposure, which include vitamin D synthesis, versus the risks of sunburn and skin cancer.
They then compared their results with those that would be predicted from the old ex vivo vitamin D study and found the previous study is not an accurate predictor of benefit from UVR exposure.
The authors recommend a simple systematic correction of the ex vivo wavelength dependency for vitamin D. The new study means that many risk benefit calculations for solar UVR exposure must be reviewed with a revised version of the wavelength dependency for vitamin D.
Professor Antony Young said: “Our study shows that risk versus benefit calculations from solar exposure may need to be re-evaluated. The results from the study are timely because the global technical committee, Commission internationale de l’éclairage, that sets UVR standards will be able to discuss the findings of this paper to re-evaluate the wavelength dependency of vitamin D. Further research from our group will determine the risk/benefit calculations.”
“A robot that finds lost items”
A busy commuter is ready to walk out the door, only to realize they’ve misplaced their keys and must search through piles of stuff to find them. Rapidly sifting through clutter, they wish they could figure out which pile was hiding the keys.
Researchers at MIT have created a robotic system that can do just that. The system, RFusion, is a robotic arm with a camera and radio frequency (RF) antenna attached to its gripper. It fuses signals from the antenna with visual input from the camera to locate and retrieve an item, even if the item is buried under a pile and completely out of view.
The RFusion prototype the researchers developed relies on RFID tags, which are cheap, battery-less tags that can be stuck to an item and reflect signals sent by an antenna. Because RF signals can travel through most surfaces (like the mound of dirty laundry that may be obscuring the keys), RFusion is able to locate a tagged item within a pile.
Using machine learning, the robotic arm automatically zeroes-in on the object’s exact location, moves the items on top of it, grasps the object, and verifies that it picked up the right thing. The camera, antenna, robotic arm, and AI are fully integrated, so RFusion can work in any environment without requiring a special set up.
While finding lost keys is helpful, RFusion could have many broader applications in the future, like sorting through piles to fulfill orders in a warehouse, identifying and installing components in an auto manufacturing plant, or helping an elderly individual perform daily tasks in the home, though the current prototype isn’t quite fast enough yet for these uses.
“This idea of being able to find items in a chaotic world is an open problem that we’ve been working on for a few years. Having robots that are able to search for things under a pile is a growing need in industry today. Right now, you can think of this as a Roomba on steroids, but in the near term, this could have a lot of applications in manufacturing and warehouse environments,” said senior author Fadel Adib, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and director of the Signal Kinetics group in the MIT Media Lab.
Co-authors include research assistant Tara Boroushaki, the lead author; electrical engineering and computer science graduate student Isaac Perper; research associate Mergen Nachin; and Alberto Rodriguez, the Class of 1957 Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The research will be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery Conference on Embedded Networked Senor Systems next month.
RFusion begins searching for an object using its antenna, which bounces signals off the RFID tag (like sunlight being reflected off a mirror) to identify a spherical area in which the tag is located. It combines that sphere with the camera input, which narrows down the object’s location. For instance, the item can’t be located on an area of a table that is empty.
But once the robot has a general idea of where the item is, it would need to swing its arm widely around the room taking additional measurements to come up with the exact location, which is slow and inefficient.
The researchers used reinforcement learning to train a neural network that can optimize the robot’s trajectory to the object. In reinforcement learning, the algorithm is trained through trial and error with a reward system.
“This is also how our brain learns. We get rewarded from our teachers, from our parents, from a computer game, etc. The same thing happens in reinforcement learning. We let the agent make mistakes or do something right and then we punish or reward the network. This is how the network learns something that is really hard for it to model,” Boroushaki explains.
In the case of RFusion, the optimization algorithm was rewarded when it limited the number of moves it had to make to localize the item and the distance it had to travel to pick it up.
Once the system identifies the exact right spot, the neural network uses combined RF and visual information to predict how the robotic arm should grasp the object, including the angle of the hand and the width of the gripper, and whether it must remove other items first. It also scans the item’s tag one last time to make sure it picked up the right object.
Cutting through clutter
The researchers tested RFusion in several different environments. They buried a keychain in a box full of clutter and hid a remote control under a pile of items on a couch.
But if they fed all the camera data and RF measurements to the reinforcement learning algorithm, it would have overwhelmed the system. So, drawing on the method a GPS uses to consolidate data from satellites, they summarized the RF measurements and limited the visual data to the area right in front of the robot.
Their approach worked well — RFusion had a 96 percent success rate when retrieving objects that were fully hidden under a pile.
“Sometimes, if you only rely on RF measurements, there is going to be an outlier, and if you rely only on vision, there is sometimes going to be a mistake from the camera. But if you combine them, they are going to correct each other. That is what made the system so robust,” Boroushaki says.
In the future, the researchers hope to increase the speed of the system so it can move smoothly, rather than stopping periodically to take measurements. This would enable RFusion to be deployed in a fast-paced manufacturing or warehouse setting.
Beyond its potential industrial uses, a system like this could even be incorporated into future smart homes to assist people with any number of household tasks, Boroushaki says.
“Every year, billions of RFID tags are used to identify objects in today’s complex supply chains, including clothing and lots of other consumer goods. The RFusion approach points the way to autonomous robots that can dig through a pile of mixed items and sort them out using the data stored in the RFID tags, much more efficiently than having to inspect each item individually, especially when the items look similar to a computer vision system,” says Matthew S. Reynolds, CoMotion Presidential Innovation Fellow and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Washington, who was not involved in the research. “The RFusion approach is a great step forward for robotics operating in complex supply chains where identifying and ‘picking’ the right item quickly and accurately is the key to getting orders fulfilled on time and keeping demanding customers happy.”