FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Jobless Recovery

by MARK WEISBROT

The U.S. recession officially ended in June of 2009, but most Americans don’t feel like we are in a recovery. That’s because it’s been a weak recovery, with the size of the economy barely bigger today than it was four years ago, when the recession started.

Since America is a rich country, it is not growth itself that matters most but employment and, of course, the distribution of income. And the employment numbers are just terrible.

The simplest measure is the percentage of the working-age population that is employed. That peaked at 63.4 percent in December 2006. It plummeted to a low of 58.2 percent last July and is hardly different now – 58.5 percent in the latest figures.

What this means is that we need about 10 million jobs to get back to full employment. There was a lot of happy talk earlier this month when the December job numbers were released. They showed 200,000 payroll jobs added in December, and the unemployment rate falling to 8.5 percent. Adding even 200,000 jobs a month is not very good for an economy that needs at least 90,000-100,000 jobs a month just to keep up with the growth of the working-age population.

And as my colleague Dean Baker pointed out, the latest jobs numbers have probably been over-optimistic. Realistically, he notes, at present trends of job growth we will not hit full employment until 2028. This would be an economic failure of disastrous proportions.

Looking at it from the unemployment side, the U.S. government has a broader measure of unemployment that includes people who are involuntarily working part-time and people who have given up looking for work. This is currently at 15.2 percent of the labor force, or 23.7 million people who need work.

To make matters worse, we have had record numbers out of work for more than six months – more than 40 percent of the unemployed over the last two years. Long-term unemployment is much more devastating for workers and their families. And recent research shows that even this measure underestimates the current long-term hardship in the labor market.

Although there has been some fear of the economy lapsing into recession again, the more likely scenario in the foreseeable future is slow growth with intolerable levels of unemployment, along with rising poverty and inequality, and accompanying social ills.

Of course there are many things that the government could do to restore full employment. The Obama Administration’s 2009 Recovery Act, or stimulus, was only about one-eighth the size of the lost demand from the bursting of the housing bubble. It saved an estimated 1.2 – 2.8 million jobs, not nearly enough. Obviously a much bigger stimulus, and one more focused on creating employment, is needed – but the politicians are afraid to talk about it. And the likely Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, promises to create much more unemployment through massive cuts in the federal budget.

Another way to reduce unemployment would be for the government to subsidize and encourage employers to allow for shorter hours, as an alternative to laying people off. Unemployment insurance funds, along with other money, could be used for this purpose. This has proved very successful in Germany, where unemployment has been reduced to 5.5 percent – lower than it was before the world recession.

Of course, so long as our political discussion is fixated on a non-existing “threat” from the federal debt, these solutions will be out of reach. The current net interest burden on the federal debt is 1.4 percent of GDP, about as low as it has been for more than 60 years.

The biggest burden we are carrying is the economic illiteracy of our leaders, for which Americans are paying a very steep price.

Mark Weisbrot is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: the Phony Crisis.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail