FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Bad News About Jobs

by DEAN BAKER

More than five years into the downturn it doesn’t take much to get people excited about the state of the economy. The Labor Department’s February employment report showing the economy generated a better-than-expected 236,000 jobs and the unemployment rate had fallen 0.2 percentage points to 7.7 percent was sufficient to get the optimists’ blood flowing. Unfortunately, they are likely to be disappointed.

First off, if the 236,000 jobs number sounds good to you than you probably are not old enough to remember 271,000 number reported last February or the 311,000 number reported in January of 2012. The strong winter job growth was followed by a dismal spring in which job growth slowed to a trickle.

While most economic measures implied that the economy suddenly shifted from hot to cold, the more obvious explanation was that unusually good winter weather in the Northeast and the Midwest pulled hiring forward, as some of us warned at the time. This is likely part of the story this year as well.

While few people in the northern part of the country have been sunbathing in January and February, we did not see the sort of severe snowstorms or sub-zero weather that typically leads to a few days without work in at least part of the region. This likely explains the 48,000 job growth reported for construction in February, as well as higher-than-expected growth in retail and temporary employment.

The drop in the unemployment rate is also not as good news as it may initially seem. The Labor Department reported that 130,000 people left the labor force in the month so they are no longer counted as unemployed. The percentage of the adult population that is employed—the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) – was unchanged at 58.6 percent. This is just 0.4 percentage points above the low hit in the summer of 2011 and is unchanged over the last year.

While the unemployment rate has fallen back by 2.3 percentage points from its peak, reversing more than 40 percent of its increase, the EPOP is still down by 4.5 percentage points from its pre-recession level. The drop in unemployment is much more the result of people giving up the search for employment and leaving the labor force than workers finding new jobs.

The one genuinely encouraging piece of news in the February employment data is an uptick in wage growth. Over the last three months, average hourly earnings rose at a 2.85 percent annual rate compared with the prior three months. If this continues it would imply that workers are actually seeing real wage gains. Unfortunately, this increase was likely driven by some state minimum wage increases and the sort of random movements that causes these data to fluctuate erratically, but this is an item that the optimists can look to for hope.

Looking beyond this report, there is not much reason for optimism. Housing construction is rising but from a very low base. It had fallen back to just 2.0 percent of GDP, so even a 20 percent growth rate would add just 0.4 percentage points to GDP growth. The most recent data on investment shows a sharp drop, albeit after 3 months of good growth. We will be fortunate if this category grows at more than a 10 percent annual rate in 2013.

While an upward revision to the 4th quarter GDP data turned a negative 0.1 percent into a positive 0.1 percent, the economy still only grew at a 1.6 percent annual rate in the second half of 2012. Apart from the uptick in construction, there are few good reasons to expect much of an acceleration from this growth rate. On the other hand, the ending of the payroll tax cut will pull more than $100 billion a year out of the economy. The impact of this tax increase was just being felt when the February jobs survey was taken in the middle of the month.

The other big hit to the economy will be from the sequester, which will pull roughly $80 billion in federal spending out of the economy. The forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office and others show the sequester slowing growth by 0.5-0.6 percentage points. The economy has not even begun to feel the impact of these cuts, most of which will not start to effect until April.

In short, we have an economy that had been growing at a not very healthy pace through the second half of 2012 that is virtually certain to be slowed by contractionary fiscal policy through the rest of 2013. Unless there is a rapid reversal of policy, the 7.7 percent unemployment rate is likely to represent a low that we may not see again for some time. While the economy is not likely to fall into a recession and send the unemployment rate soaring, the economy is not growing fast enough to meet the need for jobs from a growing labor force. As a result unemployment will be going in the wrong direction for the rest of the year.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy and False Profits: Recoverying From the Bubble Economy.

This article originally appeared on The Guardian.

 

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
Farzana Versey
Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators
Pete Dolack
Fanaticism and Fantasy Drive Purported TPP ‘Benefits’
Murray Dobbin
Canada and the TPP
Steve Horn
Army of Lobbyists Push LNG Exports, Methane Hydrates, Coal in Senate Energy Bill
Colin Todhunter
“Lies, Lies and More Lies” – GMOs, Poisoned Agriculture and Toxic Rants
Franklin Lamb
ISIS Erasing Our Cultural Heritage in Syria
David Mihalyfy
#realacademicbios Deserve Real Reform
Graham Peebles
Unjust and Dysfunctional: Asylum in the UK
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
Yves Engler
On Unions and Class Struggle
Alfredo Lopez
The ‘Bern’ and the Internet
Missy Comley Beattie
Super Propaganda
Ed Rampell
Great Caesar’s Ghost!: A Specter Haunts Hollywood in the Coen’s Anti-Anti-Commie Goofball Comedy
Cesar Chelala
The Public Health Impact of Domestic Violence
Ron Jacobs
Cold Weather Comforts of a Certain Sort
Charles Komanoff
On the Passing of the Jefferson Airplane
Charles R. Larson
Can One Survive the Holocaust?
David Yearsley
Reading Room Blues
February 04, 2016
Scott McLarty
Political Revolution and the Third-Party Imperative
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail