The markets – Dow is up more than 150 points – and the media – “economy set to add most jobs since 2005” – liked today’s jobs report: 203,000 jobs created in November 2013. And, of course, we should be glad over 200,000 people had jobs in November who didn’t have them in October. But does this mean that the economy is up and running for us? Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to take three dates: Nov 2007, the last month before what has been labeled the “great recession,” June 2009, the official end of the “great recession”, and today and look at the job numbers. The table below provides that comparison (all numbers in 000s, population and labor force are people 16 and over, seasonally adjusted).
A lot of numbers, yes but several points stand out:
(1) Population grew by almost 14 million since November 2007 but the labor force grew by only 2.5 million.
(2) There are fewer people employed today than was the case in six years ago. This is unprecedented for the US.
(3) There are still 300,000 fewer women employed than in November 2007 and over 2 million fewer men employed than on that same date.
(4) Where did all the people go? The category “not in labor force” has the answer: there has been an increase of more than 12 million people not in the labor force.
It should be clear that, by any reasonable definition, the Long Depression has not ended. We still inhabit an economy that is failing, over both the short and the long run, to create sufficient jobs, and especially sufficient living wage jobs, for our people. It is worth noting that a similar – and in some cases more extreme – pattern is true of much of Western Europe.
There was, this week, one small glimmer of hope. President Obama defined the stark and growing inequality in the US as “the challenge of our generation.” Much more significantly he emphasized, for the first time, that the problem of inequality was not one of lack of training and skills but of policy choices. Of course, getting a Congress that has accomplished less than any on record, to act on that perspective, is going to be very difficult.
Of equal concern with a do nothing Congress is the growing number of economists and political “leaders” now adding the idea of a “new normal” of slow job growth to their usual mantra of the need for workers to go out and get new skills/training. This attitude is always expressed by people who are not facing the new normal because they have jobs, usually well paying jobs. And it is only an “attitude” There is no evidence to suggest that the economies of the US and Western Europe are not capable of generating job growth – there is simply political opposition to taking the steps necessary to end the destruction of people’s lives and dreams. The politics that drives this opposition to action is based on the neoliberal ideology that worships “markets” and argues that we cannot possibly do better than “the market” and therefore should do nothing.
There are, however, serious and well thought proposals that have been developed to address the problem of job creation and the policies that have caused the huge growth of inequality. One of those was developed by CPEG’s program to create jobs for everyone willing and able to work. There are also two excellent legislative proposals that would accomplish much of what we sought: Rep. John Conyers, “The 21st Century Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act” (HR 1000) would create jobs through a federally funded program. And Rep. Keith Ellison’s “Inclusive Prosperity Act” (HR 1579) would raise the money to pay for job creation by levying a small tax on the trading of financial assets.
We should seize the small opening that Obama’s talk has created and push all of our representatives and senators to get on board with these measures. To do anything less is to abdicate our responsibilities to our people, especially the new generation entering the work force.