In the late 1960s I was teaching at a community college in upstate NY and, among the books I assigned to my students, was Betty Freidan’s “The Feminine Mystique.” It usually generated interesting discussions, perhaps the most interesting of which was the gender gap in the response to the question I would ask about expectations for the household division of labor (including child care and other housework) in their future lives. The young women turned out to be better predictors of where the future was going than the young men.
Maybe the young men were thinking about 1900 when 1 in 5 women in the US – and only 1 in 20 married women – were in the wage labor force. Housework, “women’s work” was demanding and time consuming; the average household contained almost 5 people and almost 20% had more than 7 members. Or maybe the young men were just reflecting the reality that, in the 1960s, their mothers were doing 6 hours of housework labor for every 1 expended by fathers. In contrast, perhaps the young women were envisioning a society – like today’s US – when 3 of every 5 women, both overall and for married, work for wages. And they understood that human labor time is not indefinitely expandable.
The month of May saw job growth of 217,000 in the U.S. but no change in the number of people who are unemployed. Perhaps buoyed by the news of job growth, 218,000 unemployed people who had abandoned the search for work re-entered the labor force in May. But what awaits those hopeful job-seekers?
Although we’ve had several months of relatively positive jobs reports, the pace of job growth has been too slow to employ the nearly 10 million officially unemployed workers in any reasonable amount of time. The number workers without jobs for 27 weeks or more did not change in May and still accounts for 35% of the total unemployed. Nor has the labor force participation rate budged past the historically low levels that have defined the Great Recession and its long, dreary ‘recovery.’ Prospects for working people are still grim, especially in the 24 states that have callously refused to expand Medicaid even as their residents struggle to get by.
Ok, 50 straight months of job growth in the private sector – almost unprecedented – and we’re roughly back to where we were in late 2007, just before the official beginning of the “Great Recession.” The top line number for the report on April job creation was 288,000 new jobs and a decline in the unemployment rate to 6.3%. In many economic recoveries in the post-WWII years, this would be good news and worth celebrating. But the Long Depression that began in 2007 is far from over, and I don’t mean just that the number of long term unemployed remains higher than in any other post-recession period or that the labor force participation rate is lower than at any time since the early 1980s, both of which are true. I mean the underlying problem, that the US economy is a failure in achieving the core goal of any modern economy: generating living wage jobs for all willing and able to work.
A limping economy reflected in feeble jobs numbers and inadequate policy prescriptions. Those are the conclusions to be drawn from the Department of Labor’s March Jobs report and Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s March 31 speech in Chicago.
The March jobs situation illustrates the problems of a static economy which added 192,000 jobs, down from February’s 197,000 jobs. Unemployment was unchanged at 6.7 percent. Unemployment among African Americans rose over the previous month, from 12 to 12.4 percent, while Latino unemployment decreased slightly from 8.1 to 7.9 percent.