The Phony Jobs Report Hype, A Very Sick Economy & Millions of Workers Who Don’t Count

In General Interest by Jonathan Tasini1 Comment

This was almost predictable: the traditional media, and too many bloggers who regurgitate what they read in the traditional media, are buying into the “rebound” in the economy because of today’s Labor Department report; the stock market goes up; and, I’m certain, pretty soon, the White House will be taking credit for all this and, subtly or not so subtly, arguing that, see, aren’t we great, vote for us. It’s nonsense.

So, here is the visual to remember:

That chart does not reflect the 5.9 percent number being touted today–but the point is still the same: we have a very sick economy where people cannot find meaningful, solid, decent-paying work and are dropping out of the workforce.As Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research points out, in an email just landing in my inbox:

…there was no change in the employment-to-population ratio which remained fixed at 59.0 percent. In fact, labor force participation fell by 0.3 percentage points for white men in September and 0.2 percentage points for white women.

Even the centrist, Clinton-Administration-in-waiting-awash-in-corporate-donations, free-market-cheerleaders, the Center for American Progress said yesterday:

Policymakers and pundits have taken far too much comfort in the decline in the headline unemployment rate. The extent to which unemployment has dropped depends on how it’s measured, especially in this recovery. The typical measure, called U-3 by economists, is pretty restrictive: It counts the percentage of people who are actively looking for work but cannot find it. There are other, broader measures we can look at. Perhaps the most complete picture, called U-6, includes marginally attached workers—those who have looked for work recently but are not looking currently—and those working part time who would prefer full-time work. U-6 is always higher than U-3, but it has gotten a lot higher since the recession, and the gap has been essentially unchanged since January.


Another reason that the traditional unemployment rate is less informative about the overall health of the labor market is the fact that today the number of long-term unemployed, while down sharply from its postrecession peak, is still almost 50 percent higher than its highest prerecession level on record. There are still 3 million Americans who have been unemployed for half a year or longer and are still actively searching for work. Thirty-three percent of all unemployed fall into this long-term unemployed category. The average length of time someone has spent unemployed is about seven-and-a-half months, almost double what it was before the recession.[emphasis added]

Back to Dean Baker:

The number of people involuntarily employed part-time by fell 174,000 to 7,103,000. This is extraordinarily high given the unemployment rate. The number of people choosing to work part time rose slightly and now stands 642,000 above its year-ago level. This presumably is the result of people taking advantage of Obamacare and getting insurance through the exchanges or expanded Medicaid rather than their employers.[emphasis added]

So, this means:A persistent, large core of workers–real people–are in part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time work. This is a trend that goes back way before the financial crisis. It is, in fact, the result of a conscious corporate decision to REDUCE the number of full-time, good-paying jobs, and to work off of part-time workers.

It means more people have dropped out of the job market, over time, because it’s just too damn depressing to look for real, meaningful, stable work.

What really has happened here is that the frame has shifted. For example, when elites, including Democrats, talk about “full employment”, they mean 5.5 percent or so–which, back in the day, would be seen as unconscionably high; full employment, at worse, was pegged at 4 percent (and could probably go a bit lower).

But, there is an acceptance of a certain level of desperation now and exploitation that would have been seen as immoral say 30-40 years ago.

In my opinion, it is much more helpful, for the sake of long-term political chance, to challenge the chatter of these jobs reports, pointing out the realities facing millions of people.

The economy is very sick because people can’t make a decent living. This is not recovery.


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