Sunday, March 08, 2015

Let them tweet cake: 'Marie Antoinette' at Steppenwolf

Ericka Ratcliff, Tamberla Perry and Alana Arenas in "Marie Antoinette" (Steppenwolf Theatre Company)

"Liberté, égalité, fraternité" is just another meme in Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of "Marie Antoinette." We're invited to think of the Enlightenment as the start of our unenlightened age. Seems like a daft notion, but then again how can rebels still see beheadings as all the rage?

The production starts with the Capet queen and her ladies-in-waiting decked out in wide-contour crinoline, but engaged in the idle girl talk of reality television: Marie Antoinette as Kim Kardashian. Alana Arendas has the task of reigning over a Moulin Rouge court, a pastiche that makes Antoinette only 1% aristocrat, or places her in the aristocracy of the 1%.

David Adjmi's play sets her in a tourist Versailles, a hall of scratched mirrors. It's not a vast palace but a small jewel box of family and friends, with not much to the lot of them beyond their aloof, over-the-top image. Louis XVI is not playing a delicate game of empire and reform. Tim Hopper's king is mostly distracted, the inheritor of the family business; his fall, a few convocation missteps. Axel von Fersen (Ariel Shafir) is a flirtatious count on his grand tour, not Rochambeau's aide in the march on Yorktown. There's not much revolution in this rarefied air.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Jobs report: A forest of unicorns

"The Unicorn in Captivity," tapestry circa 1500 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The economy's rebuilding, but without a blueprint. Today's drop in unemployment comes with unexpected growth in payrolls: 295,000 last month, 239,000 in January and 329,000 in December. But that hasn't given much relief to underemployed or longtime jobless workers.

Hiring managers now talk about hunting unicorns without irony: To navigate changing terrain, they seek rarities with creative and technical abilities. Yet they're reluctant to scout in a forest of unicorns: career changers with relatable skills and new ideas.

Let's go hunting: Not much separates the winners and losers in job creation:

Net job gainsNet job losses
Online and specialty storesElectronics and department stores
Car dealersAppliance dealers
Home contractorsHome builders
InsuranceCommercial banking

Unemployment by occupation (in thousands)

Unemployment has backed down steadily from 2010 highs across most categories, yet nearly every occupation still has more people looking for work than a decade ago. The rate among construction workers shot up to 21.3 percent, as oil and gas companies abandon suddenly unprofitable rigs. In a service economy, nearly 2 million unemployed workers come from service fields, with some of the highest unemployment in leisure and hospitality.

Employment by age (in thousands)

The workforce is graying. Teenage unemployment is falling, but it's the highest of any age group. The steady increase in new jobs has relatively few opening up for workers in their teens and twenties. Even as companies use early retirement to trim their work ranks, jobs for people 55 and older hold near a record high.

Average hourly earnings barely changed. And there's no letup in part-time hiring. A quarter of all workers are part-timers, many not by choice. A steady 4.9 percent hold multiple jobs. The 5.5 percent unemployment rate doubles doubles when adding people who look for work off and on, or who settle for part-time jobs. We're all doing what we can, yet we're not doing all we're capable of.