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).

More articles by:
July 27, 2016
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail