So, what’s not to like about the US economy? The stock market is making all time (nominal) highs, corporate profits at record levels, housing prices rising – well, maybe there’s still the question of jobs: the lack thereof.
Today’s BLS jobs report is certainly better than many of those in the past year: 236,000 jobs created compared to the 2011 – 2012 averages, both of which were in the 150 - 155,000/month range. That level of job creation is sufficient to absorb new entrants plus 35 – 40,000 unemployed. The level of job creation in February would provide about 120,000 jobs above the level of new labor market entrants. However, the downward revision of the new jobs numbers for January 2013 leaves 2013 YTD with only 60,000/month job creation above the level necessary to provide jobs for new labor force entrants.
Let’s put these numbers in context: there remain over 12 million officially unemployed and another almost 7 million people classified as “not in the labor force” but stating that they want a job. Even at the rate of job creation for Feb 2013, it would take 158 months – 13 years – to provide jobs for all who seek them. The experience of past recessions suggests that the actual number of jobs needed is actually greater than 19 million; when/if job creation picks up after a recession, many people who have given up looking for work return to seeking jobs.
Another way of putting these numbers in context is to remember that there are 2.5 million fewer people employed today than in Dec 2007, the month that marks the beginning of the Great Recession. Further, since that date, the same time the labor force has grown by almost 2 million and those “not in the labor force” have grown by 12 million. Or you can just remember that if these 19 million people were standing shoulder to shoulder, they would stretch from Bangor Maine to Los Angele and back – and there would still be 2 million people not in that line.
When we break down the unemployed by gender, ethnicity and race, we find the long term patterns of unequal labor market access continuing. While the Great Recession saw heavier job losses among males than females, over the past year males have accounted for 75% of total employment growth. Comparing unemployment by race and ethnicity, the unemployment rate for African Americans is 13.8% and for Hispanics 9.6% vs. an overall unemployment rate of 7.7% and 6.8% for white workers.
These are the figures. But we must always remember that, behind the dry numbers, are stories of dreams destroyed, of families under stress that often exceeds the breaking point, of foreclosed homes because there is no money for the mortgages, and of lost potential for us all, both the unemployed and the employed.
It is, therefore fitting that Rep. John Conyers has announced plans to reintroduce his “21st Century Full Employment and Training Act” and that Rep. Ellison plans to reintroduce his bill that levies a small tax on the trading of financial assets with the revenues targeted to job creation. DSA has endorsed both of these initiatives (see the national web site for literature on these proposals) and we remain convinced that recovery from the financial crisis and the subsequent economic stagnation requires much, much more than too many of our legislators in Washington have even conceived, much less done. We must constantly push our political and economic elite to move off the dead end of deficits and instead recognize the needs of our people for full time, living wage employment.
Bill Barclay is on the steering committee of Chicago DSA, the DSA National Member Organizer, and with the Chicago Political Economy Group.