On the cusp of America’s celebration of labor’s place in American life, the Labor Department released its monthly review of employment statistics to relatively optimistic reactions from the White House and the media, despite the fact that 54,000 fewer Americans had jobs at the end of August than did in July.
The cause for all the celebration is that the 54,000 net new unemployed Americans were mostly Census workers who expected to be unemployed by September, so the overall increase in unemployment wasn’t really that bad. But, a deeper look at the numbers belies the rosy rhetoric.
At issue in this month’s statistics: the net job loss of 54,000 jobs — which bumped the unemployment rate up to 9.6 percent — was driven by the loss of 114,000 temporary Census jobs, and the private sector actually added a net 67,000 jobs. Some people, including at the White House, have seized on the modest gains in private sector employment to paint the economic picture as somewhat rosy.
However, the fact is that economists agree that America needs to add 150,000-200,000 jobs every month just to keep pace with new entrants to the job market (about 100,000 people every month) and begin to re-employ the millions of Americans who remain out of work. By that standard, the loss of 54,000 jobs, even if they are mostly temporary census workers, is pretty bad news.
But the bad news doesn’t stop there: 6.2 million Americans — 42 percent of all the unemployed — have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks. While that’s a reduction of 323,000 people, it is roughly equivalent to the number of Americans who are newly part-time employed for economic reasons (331,000). In total, 8.9 million Americans are working to support themselves with part-time work alone because they have no other options. And 2.4 million Americans are deemed marginally unemployed because they are looking for work but don’t qualify for unemployment. In all, the underemployment rate is actually closer to 17 percent.
That, of course, doesn’t account for people so discouraged by the job market that they’ve stopped looking for work altogether. According to the Labor Department’s statistics, both the labor market participation rate (64.7 percent) and the employment-to-population ration (58.5 percent) are lower than a year ago — and at the lowest level in a decade.
Discouraged yet? A look at overall government employment won’t help. Despite the spin that the loss of jobs is almost all due to the loss of temporary Census jobs, state and local government employees — especially teachers — continue to experience job losses. Private sector employment is up by 67,000 jobs — but gains in that sector remain driven by gains in skilled health care jobs (up 28,000 in August for an average of 20,000 job per month this year) and temporary jobs (17,000 in August, for a total of 392,000 new temporary jobs in the last year). The manufacturing sector lost another 27,000 jobs, making for a net loss of 93,000 since last year. The construction industry — one of the industries hardest hit by the economic downturn and at which much of the stimulus was initially aimed — added 19,000 jobs this month (mostly because 10,000 workers came back from a July strike), but has a net job loss of 574,000 jobs since this time last year.
So while the analysts and politicians may claim that these are great numbers because they expected them to be worse, the reality is that 26.2 million Americans are underemployed; 14.9 million of those are unemployed; and 6.2 million of those people have been so for more than 27 weeks. There’s no way that 67,000 new private sector jobs are going to make a dent in that — and certainly not when the government is busy laying 121,000 government workers off.