Unemployment falls


Staff & Wire Reports

FILE- In this June 21, 2018, file photo, job applicants talks with representatives from Aldi at a job fair hosted by Job News South Florida, in Sunrise, Fla. On Friday, Oct. 5, the U.S. government issues the September  jobs report. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

FILE- In this June 21, 2018, file photo, job applicants talks with representatives from Aldi at a job fair hosted by Job News South Florida, in Sunrise, Fla. On Friday, Oct. 5, the U.S. government issues the September jobs report. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

US unemployment rate falls to 49-year low of 3.7 percent


AP Economics Writer

Friday, October 5

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent in September — the lowest level since December 1969 — signaling how the longest streak of hiring on record has put millions of Americans back to work.

Employers added just 134,000 jobs last month, the fewest in a year, the Labor Department said Friday. But that figure was likely depressed by the impact of Hurricane Florence.

That storm struck North and South Carolina in mid-September and closed thousands of businesses. A category that includes restaurants, hotels and casinos lost jobs for the first time since last September, when Hurricane Harvey exerted a similar effect.

In recent months, though, healthy consumer and business spending has been fueling brisk economic growth and emboldening employers to continue hiring. Americans are confident about the economic outlook, buoyed by the job gains and signs of higher pay. The September gain extended an 8½-year streak of monthly job growth.

What’s more, the government on Friday revised sharply up its estimate of hiring for July and August by 87,000 jobs. So far this year, monthly job growth has averaged 208,000, up from a pace of 182,000 for all of last year.

“The acceleration in job gains this year is extraordinary in an environment where firms are having great difficulty finding qualified candidates,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities.

Average hourly pay rose 2.8 percent from a year earlier, a moderate gain and one tick below the year-over-year increase in August. Many economists expect pay growth to accelerate in coming months. With unemployment so low, companies are facing intense pressure to raise pay to land workers. Amazon responded this week by raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Financial markets were down sharply in late-morning trading. Investors have grown concerned about higher interest rates and the impact they might have on the economy and the stock market.

Friday’s jobs report will likely keep the Federal Reserve on track to raise short-term interest rates, economists said, with another rate hike expected at its meeting in December.

The Fed’s hikes might be starting to bite. Borrowing costs for businesses and consumers are rising. Pointing to the economy’s health, the Fed last week raised its benchmark short-term rate and predicted that it would continue to tighten credit into 2020 to manage growth and inflation. Over time, higher borrowing costs make auto loans, mortgages and corporate debt more expensive and can eventually slow the economy.

Anticipating stronger growth — and perhaps higher inflation — investors have dumped bonds and forced up their yields. The yield on the government’s 10-year Treasury note, a benchmark for mortgages and other loans, has touched its highest level in seven years.

For now, consumers, business executives and most economists remain optimistic. Measures of consumer confidence are at or near their highest levels in 18 years. Retailers have begun scrambling to hire enough workers for what’s expected to be a robust holiday shopping season. A survey of service-sector firms this week, including banks, hotels and health care providers, found that they are expanding at their fastest pace in a decade.

Americans have continued spending steadily and appear to be in generally stable financial shape. Households are saving nearly 7 percent of their incomes — more than twice the savings rate before the recession. That trend suggests that a brighter economic outlook hasn’t caused consumers to recklessly build up unsustainable debt.

During the April-June quarter, the U.S. economy expanded at a 4.2 percent annual rate, the best in four years. Economists have forecast that growth reached a 3 percent to 3.5 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter.

The economy does show some weak spots. Sales of existing homes have fallen over the past year. Increasingly expensive houses, higher mortgage rates and a shortage of properties for sale are slowing purchases. Auto sales have also slumped.

President Donald Trump’s trade fights could also weigh on the economy, though the effect on hiring won’t likely be felt until next year, economists say. The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum as well as on roughly half of China’s imports to the United Sates. Most U.S. businesses will try to absorb the higher costs themselves, at least for now, economists say, and avoid layoffs.

Still, should the tariffs remain fully in effect a year from now, roughly 300,000 jobs could be lost by then, according to estimates by Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

Manufacturers, which are more dependent on foreign markets than other industries, added 18,000 jobs last month, a sign that the trade fight so far is having little effect on hiring.

Economist: Jobs report disappointing

Ball State University economist Michael Hicks says this month’s federal jobs report was influenced by the major hurricane which affected North Carolina and nearby states — so expect upward revisions in coming months.

Nonfarm payrolls rose just 134,000—coming under estimates of 185,000 and the poorest performance since last September. The Unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent from 3.9 percent, which is the lowest level since late 1969.

“Overall, the total employment growth reported in September was disappointing at only 134,0000—well off recent months,” says Hicks, who is the director of Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research. “However, the report added almost 90,000 jobs to past months due to revisions. However, the unemployment rate declined because more workers exited the labor force than found jobs.

“The report also revised manufacturing jobs up in both August and September, erasing the losses previously reported in August,” he said. “However, this jobs report adds to the significant slowing of manufacturing employment growth over the past five months.”

Hicks Said to expect significant growth in construction and manufacturing jobs as demand for housing and housing related materials spikes after the hurricane and flooding losses of September.

This will partially offset the increasing drag on manufacturing caused by the expanding trade war with allies in Europe and North America and with China, he said.

The Conversation

Amazon and other ‘superstar’ companies could give all American workers a raise

October 8, 2018


Carolin Schellhorn

Carolin Schellhorn is a Friend of The Conversation.

Assistant Professor of Finance, St. Joseph’s University

Disclosure statement

Carolin Schellhorn does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

The latest employment data, released on Oct. 5, point to a persistent economic puzzle: The unemployment rate is the lowest in nearly half a century yet wages have been very slow to react.

In the past, such low unemployment levels have driven up wages. Yet, apart from a relatively recent acceleration, real wages have barely budged since the Great Recession and in fact are little changed from the 1980s.

This puzzle can be even more confounding when you consider some of the biggest American companies have been boosting the minimum wages they pay their employees to levels way above the federal minimum of US$7.25 an hour. Amazon became the latest this month, promising to pay all workers no less than $15 an hour, following similar raises for employees of Costco, Walmart, Target and others.

I believe there’s good reason to be skeptical that these sporadic pay hikes will solve the problem of stagnant wages. In fact, it is the rise of such superstar companies as Amazon that has contributed to the problem in the first place.

Stagnant wages

Wages typically need to rise 3.5 to 4 percent a year following an economic recession in order to help workers recoup their losses from the downturn.

But average hourly earnings growth for private sector nonfarm workers has been significantly below that, and most of the gains have been wiped out by inflation.

As a result, workers are getting an ever-shrinking share of U.S. national income, which declined from about 65 percent in the 1960s to as low as 56 percent in 2014.

Everything from robots and global competition to the erosion of unions has been blamed. While there’s certainly truth to each explanation, a new one has been gaining traction: superstar companies.

Superstars rise

Amazon, Google, Uber, Federal Express and a few other exceptional companies have gobbled up an increasing share of their industry’s markets to a point where small companies just can’t compete.

In retail, for example, the top four companies controlled 30 percent of sales in 2012, up from 15 percent in 1982. In finance, the share rose to 35 percent from 24 percent. And in the service sector, it climbed to 15 percent from about 10 percent.

The industry concentration, along with inexpensive loans engineered by the Federal Reserve’s ultra-low interest rate policy, has allowed a select few companies to make significant investments in productive technologies, such as in artificial intelligence and automation. This has helped them increase their market shares even further. And in turn, this is what is making it easier for these companies to lift wages, whether by setting higher minimum wage floors for their workers or simply paying more across the board.

While that’s all fine and good, the problem is that more than half of American workers in the private sector are employed by companies with fewer than 500 employees. These small businesses have suffered as a result of the superstars’ growing dominance and also can’t take advantage of the record-low borrowing costs because they do not have access to the stock and bond markets.

Because small- and mid-size employers do most of the hiring in the U.S., it is their wages that dominate the industry standards. And they are having a hard time increasing pay for their workers.

The rise of superstar companies is also what is driving widening income inequality today. While we usually think about inequality in terms of the gap between higher and low earners, researchers have found that the bigger issue is the gap between rich and poor companies, which in turn reinforces the gap in pay between individuals.

It is a good thing that the likes of Amazon are setting a much higher floor under their workers’ wages, but the slimmer profit margins at their smaller rivals make it virtually impossible for them to do the same. This will cement the superstars’ market power even further.

An incentive to act

Fortunately, superstar companies have an incentive to do something about this because a situation in which wage growth is below par is bad for business as well as for the workers.

That’s because low wages threaten the physical and mental health of a large swath of the workforce as increasing numbers of workers can’t afford to invest in good food, preventative health care, continuing education and skills training. And in a vibrant economy, workers must stay healthy and educated to remain productive. Besides, low wages also reduce consumption and economic growth.

As such, stagnant wages are one of the main reasons overall U.S. productivity growth has also been sluggish in recent years and declining toward zero. This is very bad for the U.S. economy and companies, both large and small, since high rates of productivity are vital to a country’s long-term growth rates – and to higher wages as well.

The solution is in thinking about worker productivity as a collective resource. Companies certainly have an incentive to keep labor costs low, but they also have a strong incentive to ensure, collectively, that worker productivity grows over time.

The trickier part is getting a bunch of hotshot companies to act in concert to solve a problem they all suffer from. It’s basically a “tragedy of the commons” scenario in which a shared resource is spoiled because participants’ self-interest causes them to behave against the common good.

But political economist Elinor Ostrom has shown – in research that won her a Nobel – that organizations, communities and other stakeholders have frequently found ways to govern the “commons” without tragedy.

My own soon-to-be-published research is on how groups of companies can organize themselves to preserve shared resources. The Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, for example, is collaborating with some companies like Unilever and JPMorgan Chase to engage in collective action on climate change.

So while I applaud that Amazon and others are lifting their own employees’ pay, the problem they’re trying to solve will remain until the majority of the workforce gets a raise too.

Congress OKs opioid legislation in show of bipartisanship


Associated Press

Friday, October 5

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Setting aside the Supreme Court fight, members of Congress this week approved bipartisan legislation aimed at curbing the devastating opioid addiction across the country.

But the Support for Patients and Communities Act, which President Donald Trump said he would sign into law, has political implications. It includes contributions from at least 70 lawmakers, some of whom face tough re-election campaigns in November. The measure, which the Senate passed 98-1 on Wednesday and the House approved 393-8 on Sept. 28, ensures incumbents have something positive to campaign on in the final weeks before the election.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, represents one of the states hardest hit by opioid addiction and was a main driver of the bill in the Senate.

“To the millions of people in communities across this country who have been crippled by this crisis, this legislation is the turning point,” Portman said, adding, “It’s a glimmer of hope at the end of a dark tunnel.”

More than 63,600 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016. Two-thirds of them involved a prescription or illegal opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The measure attacks the problem in hundreds of ways. It would require the U.S. Postal Service to track international packages and test them for drugs. It would especially target China, who officials say is the United States’ primary source of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl. It would allow physicians assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe addiction treatment medication.

And it would make changes to the country’s largest health coverage programs: Medicaid and Medicare.

In 13 states, people 65 and older account for the highest rate of opioid-related inpatient stays. But Medicare, which covers people 65 and older, does not pay for opioid treatment programs that administer methadone, one of three approved medications for opioid addiction. The bill would allow Medicare to cover those programs for the first time, according to Mark Parrino, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence.

Medicaid, which covers the poor and the disabled, pays for substance abuse treatment. But Medicaid does not pay for anyone arrested and held in jail. The bill would require states to restore coverage for juveniles once they’re released.

The bill also focuses on helping people once after they’ve gone through addiction treatment. A handful of states each would be eligible to receive $30 million grants to pay for job training for recovering addicts. And it would offer $25 million divided among five eligible states for housing grants for addicts who have completed treatment programs and have nowhere to go.

“It’s hard for people to be successful in recovery if they can’t find work,” said Van Ingram, executive director of Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

The bill would send that grant money to states that have been the hardest hit by opioid addiction, among them, Kentucky, home of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Rep. Andy Barr. They were among the sponsors of the grants provision.

Although McConnell is not up for re-election in November, Barr is seeking a fourth term in one of the most competitive House races in the country. He faces Democrat Amy McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot who also has made addressing the opioid crisis part of her campaign.

“We’ve been working on this a lot longer than this campaign season,” Barr said. “It’s an example of us getting results.”

AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson in Seattle and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

Romanians back marriage redefinition, but referendum voided

Monday, October 8

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — More than 90 percent of those who took part in a national referendum in Romania supported defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but the vote was invalidated as too few people cast ballots, officials said Monday.

The Central Electoral Commission said near-final results showed 91.61 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment to change the definition of marriage — it currently says it’s a union between “spouses.”

But the ballot failed to attract the minimum 30 percent turnout for the result to stand.

Election officials said just 20.41 percent of eligible voters participated in the weekend referendum. Gay rights group Accept said the result showed citizens “want a Romania based upon democratic values.”

Romania’s Orthodox Church, which backed the referendum, on Monday encouraged followers to unite “and to continue to defend the family blessed by God.” It called the vote “a partial success which calls us to hope and work more.”

It added that the church had fulfilled its “civic and moral mission publicly by defending the identity and worth of the family as a human institution created and blessed by God.” However, it added that the referendum had revealed “the level of secularization of Romanian society.”

Opponents argued the new constitutional language could make LGBT people feel like second-class citizens and make other non-traditional families targets of discrimination.

The Conversation

Extreme stress in childhood is toxic to your DNA

June 28, 2018


Daniel R. Weinberger

Director of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and Professor, Departments of Psychiatry, Neurology, Neuroscience and The Institute of Genetic Medicine, Johns Hopkins University

Disclosure statement

Daniel R. Weinberger does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

The real danger of separating children from parents is not the psychological stress – it’s the biological time bomb. The screaming and crying, the anguish and desolation is gut-wrenching. But the fallout pales in comparison to the less visible long-term effects that are more sinister and dangerous.

Separating children from their parents, in a strange land, among strangers, causes the most extreme life stress a child can experience. And it causes profound and irreversible changes in how their DNA is packaged and which genes are turned on and off in the cells of the body, in organs like the pancreas, the lungs, heart and brain – leading to lifelong changes in its structure and function.

I am the director of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and the Maltz Research Laboratories at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where scientists study how genes and the environment shape the development of the human brain.

Our studies and those of many other researchers around the world have shown that early life stress alters how DNA is packaged, which makes cells function differently than their original mandate.

How DNA is packaged alters its function

How DNA, the blueprint of life, is packaged in cells dictates how cells function. Virtually every cell in the body has the same DNA, as they are all descendants of that first fertilized egg. But a liver cell knows it’s not a lung cell, which knows it’s not a brain cell. The way the cells “know” has to do with how the DNA in cells is packaged, a process called “epigenetics.”

DNA is organized in a complicated protein package, which acts like insulation, protecting the DNA strand. This insulation determines which genes are activated to make the proteins required by a particular cell. Between the various tissues and organs, the packaging of DNA varies – like a liver cell versus a lung cell – allowing each cells to have a unique collection of proteins.

Studies of children who have experienced major early childhood stress reveal that dysfunction in many organs in the body years after the stressful event, raising the risk of heart disease, lung disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, poor school performance, drug abuse and mental illness. Scientists in the institute where I work have recently shown that the sensitivity of DNA packaging to environmental stress is greater during the first five years of life than all of the rest of life combined.

Harry Harlow, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, performed a controversial series of studies in the 1950s on infant monkeys that were isolated from their mothers for a few months – a similar situation to the period of separation experienced by young immigrant children at our borders, which is getting even longer in spite of the latest policy. Harlow’s infant monkeys became profoundly disturbed for the rest of their lives.

When these monkeys reached adulthood, studies revealed significant alterations in the structure and chemistry of their brains. Research in Romanian orphanages focusing on human children reared without parental support also show significant increases in the frequency of later life psychological and social disabilities as well as medical illnesses and changes in the anatomy of the brain.

Perhaps the best-known research on this subject was with children raised in Romanian orphanages in the 1980s and 1990s. In their compelling book “Romania’s Abandoned Children: Deprivation, Brain Development, and the Struggle for Recovery,” Nathan Fox of the University of Maryland, Charles Nelson of Harvard and Charles Zeanah of Tulane document the devastating impact of institutions on infants who are deprived of their parents’ emotional support. In addition to profound behavioral and intellectual problems, the brains of these children showed diminished growth a decade later.

How stress turns cells from Jekyll to Hyde

How does stress do these things? We know that stress causes a biological reaction in the body, including increasing the quantity of cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone.” But it also increases the production of several inflammation-related proteins. In cases of infection, these inflammatory proteins are sentinels that help protect the body against infectious agents. But in the absence of infection, they can damage the host.

They do this by getting into cells and changing the packaging of DNA. Forced separation from one’s parents especially in unfamiliar circumstances is an extreme form of childhood stress that causes stress hormones to alter DNA packaging, transforming the behavior of the cell.

Some of how the DNA is repackaged is permanent, and the cells involved go through life in an altered state, making them hypersusceptible to a myriad of other stresses and medical problems.

Scientists know how dangerous toxic stress – severe, prolonged or repetitive adversity with a lack of the adequate adult support – is to children because they know how it damages and modifies the DNA in their cells. Now you know too. The longer the authorities fail to get these children reunited with their parents, the more responsible we are as a country for violating their DNA and causing a lifetime of psychological and physical disease.

Pro-Russian Serb leader wins seat in Bosnia’s presidency


Associated Press

Sunday, October 7

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Pro-Russia Serb leader Milorad Dodik won a race to fill the Serb seat in Bosnia’s three-member presidency Sunday, deepening ethnic divisions in the country that faced a brutal war some 25 years ago.

Preliminary official results from the election gave Dodik 56 percent of the vote and his main opponent, Mladen Ivanic, 42 percent. The projections were made with 44 percent of ballots counted.

“The will of the people leaves no doubt what they want,” Dodik said, adding that voters “punished” his opponent for his “servile policies toward the West.”

Ivanic conceded defeat. Complete official returns were expected Monday.

Dodik advocates the eventual separation of Serbs from Bosnia. His election to the three-person presidency, which also has a Muslim member and a Croat member, deals a blow to efforts to strengthen unity in the country, where ethnic divisions fueled the 1992-95 war that killed 100,000 people and left millions homeless.

“The number one priority for my job in the future will be the position of the Serb people and Republic of Srpska,” Dodik said, referring to the Serb-run mini-state he has led since 2010 and which resulted from a 1995 peace settlement.

The general election was seen as an indicator of Bosnia’s future direction: moving toward integration in the European Union and NATO or driven by entrenched rivalries and friction.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had endorsed the openly anti-West Dodik. The United States has imposed sanctions on Dodik for actively obstructing efforts to implement the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war.

Voters in Sunday’s election filled positions in the complex governing system the peace accord created. The country consists of two regional entities — the Serb-run Republika Srpska and a Muslim-Croat federation — with joint institutions in a central government.

Supporters of a unified, multi-ethnic Bosnia found encouragement in the lead a moderate candidate for the Croat position in the tripartite presidency held after the partial count. Zeljko Komsic, had 49 percent, while nationalist contender Dragan Covic had 38 percent.

Covic advocated further fragmentation of Bosnia with the creation of a separate entity for the country’s Croats. However, Komsic’s likely victory still could trigger discord within the Muslim-Croat federation.

Croat nationalists dispute his legitimacy as a Croat representative, arguing that Komsic was backed overwhelmingly by Muslims. Covic has warned of an “unprecedented crisis.”

Sefik Dzaferovic, from the ruling Party of Democratic Action, won the Muslim seat in the presidency.

Along with the Bosnian presidency, voters picked the Serb president, the two entities’ parliaments and cantonal authorities during Sunday’s election.

More than half of Bosnia’s 3.3 million eligible voters cast ballots, election officials said. The campaign was marred by divisive rhetoric and allegations of irregularities that fueled tensions.

Election officials described the voting that took place as “extremely fair.”

Sabina Niksic contributed from Sarajevo and Dusan Stojanovic from Belgrade, Serbia.

The Conversation

When did humans first learn to count?

June 5, 2018


Peter Schumer

Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, Middlebury College

Disclosure statement

Peter Schumer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


Middlebury College provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

The history of math is murky, predating any written records. When did humans first grasp the basic concept of a number? What about size and magnitude, or form and shape?

In my math history courses and my research travels in Guatemala, Egypt and Japan, I’ve been especially interested in the commonality and differences of mathematics from various cultures.

Although no one knows math’s exact origins, modern mathematicians like myself know that spoken language precedes written language by scores of millennia. Linguistic clues show how people around the world must have first developed mathematical thought.

Early clues

Differences are easier to comprehend than similarities. The ability to distinguish more versus less, male versus female or short versus tall must be very ancient concepts. But the concept of different objects sharing a common attribute – such as being green or round or the idea that a single rabbit, a solitary bird and one moon all share the attribute of uniqueness – is far subtler.

In English, there are many different words for two, like “duo,” “pair” and “couple,” as well as very particular phrases such as “team of horses” or “brace of partridge.” This suggests that the mathematical concept of twoness developed well after humans had a highly developed and rich language.

By the way, the word “two” probably was once pronounced closer to the way it’s spelled, based on the modern pronunciation of twin, between, twain (two fathoms), twilight (where day meets night), twine (the twisting of two strands) and twig (where a tree branch splits in two).

Written language developed much later than spoken language. Unfortunately, much was recorded on perishable media, which have long since decayed. But some ancient artifacts that have survived do exhibit some mathematical sophistication.

For example, prehistoric tally sticks – notches incised on animal bones – are found in many locations around the world. Though these might not be proof of actual counting, they do suggest some sense of numerical record keeping. Certainly people were making one-to-one comparisons between the notches and external collections of objects – perhaps stones, fruits or animals.

Counting objects

The study of modern “primitive” cultures offers another window into human mathematical development. By “primitive,” I mean cultures that lack a written language or the use of modern tools and technology. Many “primitive” societies have well-developed arts and a deep sense of ethics and morals, and they live within sophisticated societies with complex rules and expectations.

In these cultures, counting is often done silently by bending down fingers or pointing to specific parts of the body. A Papuan tribe of New Guinea can count from 1 to 22 by pointing to various fingers as well as to their elbows, shoulders, mouth and nose.

Most primitive cultures use object-specific counting, depending on what’s prevalent in their environment. For example, the Aztecs would count one stone, two stone, three stone and so on. Five fish would be “five stone fish.” Counting by a native tribe in Java begins with one grain. The Nicie tribe of the South Pacific counts by fruit.

English number words were probably object-specific as well, but their meanings have long been lost. The word “five” probably has something to do with “hand.” Eleven and 12 meant something akin to “one over” and “two over” – over a full count of 10 fingers.

The math Americans use today is a decimal, or base 10, system. We inherited it from the ancient Greeks. However, other cultures show a great deal of variety. Some ancient Chinese, as well as a tribe in South Africa, used a base 2 system. Base 3 is rare, but not unheard of among Native American tribes.

The ancient Babylonians used a sexagesimal, or base 60, system. Many vestiges of that system remain today. That’s why we have 60 minutes in an hour and 360 degrees in a circle.

Written numbers

What about written numbers?

Ancient Mesopotamia had a very simple numerical system. It used just two symbols: a vertical wedge (v) to represent 1 and a horizontal wedge (<) to represent 10. So <<vvv could represent 23.

But the Mesopotamians had no concept of zero either as a number or as a place holder. By way of analogy, it would be as if a modern person were unable to distinguish between 5.03, 53 and 503. Context was essential.

The ancient Egyptians used different hieroglyphs for each power of 10. The number one was a vertical stroke, just as we currently use. But 10 was a heel bone, 100 a scroll or coiled rope, 1000 a lotus flower, 10,000 a pointed finger, 100,000 a tadpole and 1,000,000 the god Heh holding up the universe.

The numerals most of us know today developed over time in India, where computation and algebra were of utmost importance. It was also here that many modern rules for multiplication, division, square roots and the like were first born. These ideas were further developed and gradually transmitted to the Western world via Islamic scholars. That’s why we now refer to our numerals as the Hindu-Arabic numeral system.

It’s good for a young struggling math student to realize that it took thousands of years to progress from counting “one, two, many” to our modern mathematical world.

FILE- In this June 21, 2018, file photo, job applicants talks with representatives from Aldi at a job fair hosted by Job News South Florida, in Sunrise, Fla. On Friday, Oct. 5, the U.S. government issues the September jobs report. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/10/web1_121507926-1c2e821fa6344e0dbcddf44aefeaca7b.jpgFILE- In this June 21, 2018, file photo, job applicants talks with representatives from Aldi at a job fair hosted by Job News South Florida, in Sunrise, Fla. On Friday, Oct. 5, the U.S. government issues the September jobs report. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

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