It’s still about the Jobs!Posted: October 2, 2009
I keep repeating this like a mantra, but an economy that relies on households buying 70% of it’s production, and households that rely on wages for 67% of their income, is not going to get healthy until it creates more jobs. That’s why Robert Riech, Paul Krugman, and this Cajun Country Economist are still stuck on job creation and the unemployment rate. It appears the DJ and other stock indexes are taking notice too. This is from today’s Gray Lady.
The American economy lost 263,000 jobs in September — far more than expected — and the unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent, the government reported on Friday, dimming prospects of any meaningful job growth by the end of the year.
The Labor Department’s monthly snapshot of unemployment dashed hopes that the pace of job losses would continue to slow as the economy clawed its way back from a deep recession. Economists had expected 175,000 monthly job losses.
“People have been celebrating that we’re through the financial crisis, but the underlying issues are all still there,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “We’ve lost trillions of dollars in housing wealth, and consumption’s going to be weak. It’s not the ’30s, but there’s really nothing to boost the economy.”
You’ll recall that it’s been two years since the NBER dated the beginning of this Great Recession. That means the U.S. economy has been hemorrhaging jobs for TWO years now. We’ve got it bad and that ain’t good. Robert Reich, President Clinton’s former Labor Secretary has the “Truth about Jobs” in his blog entry today.
Unemployment will almost certainly in double-digits next year — and may remain there for some time. And for every person who shows up as unemployed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey, you can bet there’s another either too discouraged to look for work or working part time who’d rather have a full-time job or else taking home less pay than before (I’m in the last category, now that the University of California has instituted pay cuts). And there’s yet another person who’s more fearful that he or she will be next to lose a job.
In other words, ten percent unemployment really means twenty percent underemployment or anxious employment. All of which translates directly into late payments on mortgages, credit cards, auto and student loans, and loss of health insurance. It also means sleeplessness for tens of millions of Americans. And, of course, fewer purchases (more on this in a moment).
Unemployment of this magnitude and duration also translates into ugly politics, because fear and anxiety are fertile grounds for demagogues wielding the politics of resentment against immigrants, blacks, the poor, government leaders, business leaders, Jews, and other easy targets. It’s already started.
That’s right! Because of the way we actually count the unemployed, there are actually a lot more problems out there than the unemployment rate measures. All you have to be is employed 1 hour of paid work and that dumps you into the ranks of employed. So that means if you’ve been furloughed, had your hours cut, or had to take up part time employment, you may be miserably underemployed, but your still employed. You also have to be have been actively searching for a job if you don’t have one for the last four weeks to stay in the ranks of the unemployed. You start giving up, you’re considered not in the labor force and by definition not eligible to join the numbers of the unemployed. (These are so-called discouraged workers.)
Here’s the same bit of news from Paul Krugman.
But while not having another depression is a good thing, all indications are that unless the government does much more than is currently planned to help the economy recover, the job market — a market in which there are currently six times as many people seeking work as there are jobs on offer — will remain terrible for years to come.
Indeed, the administration’s own economic projection — a projection that takes into account the extra jobs the administration says its policies will create — is that the unemployment rate, which was below 5 percent just two years ago, will average 9.8 percent in 2010, 8.6 percent in 2011, and 7.7 percent in 2012.
This should not be considered an acceptable outlook. For one thing, it implies an enormous amount of suffering over the next few years. Moreover, unemployment that remains that high, that long, will cast long shadows over America’s future.
Anyone who thinks that we’re doing enough to create jobs should read a new report from John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute, which describes the “scarring” that’s likely to result from sustained high unemployment. Among other things, Mr. Irons points out that sustained unemployment on the scale now being predicted would lead to a huge rise in child poverty — and that there’s overwhelming evidence that children who grow up in poverty are alarmingly likely to lead blighted lives.
Unemployment of this duration and at this level is amazingly destructive to society. There is nothing more basic than the need to support one’s self and one’s family. A new IMF report also shows that unemployment and recessions created by financial crises frequently create situations where the economy will be incapable of growing at any substantive level for years. Think Japan’s lost decade! Both Krugman and Riech are begging the Administration to act quickly!
This is Krugman’s request.
What is true is that spending more on recovery and reconstruction would worsen the government’s own fiscal position. But even there, conventional wisdom greatly overstates the case. The true fiscal costs of supporting the economy are surprisingly small.
You see, spending money now means a stronger economy, both in the short run and in the long run. And a stronger economy means more revenues, which offset a large fraction of the upfront cost. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the offset falls short of 100 percent, so that fiscal stimulus isn’t a complete free lunch. But it costs far less than you’d think from listening to what passes for informed discussion.
Look, I know more stimulus is a hard sell politically. But it’s urgently needed. The question shouldn’t be whether we can afford to do more to promote recovery. It should be whether we can afford not to. And the answer is no.
This is Reich’s bottom line.
The most important thing right now is getting the jobs back, and getting the economy growing again.
People who now obsess about government debt have it backwards. The problem isn’t the debt. The problem is just the opposite. It’s that at a time like this, when consumers and businesses and exports can’t do it, government has to spend more to get Americans back to work and recharge the economy. Then – after people are working and the economy is growing – we can pay down that debt.
But if government doesn’t spend more right now and get Americans back to work, we could be out of work for years. And the debt will be with us even longer. And politics could get much uglier.
I agree. It’s time for the government to step up and provide some real stimulus this time to rebuild our infrastructure, provide jobs and contracts for businesses, and rescue state and local governments that are in the position of laying off essential workers like police, firefighters, and teachers. If you’re that worried about the deficit, raise taxes on the uberrich or Tobin tax financial transactions and discourage churning.