Politics

The jobless non-recovery grinds on

The jobless non-recovery grinds on

“The longest and worst recession since the end of World War II has been marked by the weakest recovery from any U.S. recession in that same period,” declares Mort Zuckerman at the Wall Street Journaland he’s got the numbers to back it up:

The jobless nature of the recovery is particularly unsettling. In June, the government’s Household Survey reported that since the start of the year, the number of people with jobs increased by 753,000—but there are jobs and then there are “jobs.” No fewer than 557,000 of these positions were only part-time. The survey also reported that in June full-time jobs declined by 240,000, while part-time jobs soared by 360,000 and have now reached an all-time high of 28,059,000—three million more part-time positions than when the recession began at the end of 2007.

That’s just for starters. The survey includes part-time workers who want full-time work but can’t get it, as well as those who want to work but have stopped looking. That puts the real unemployment rate for June at 14.3%, up from 13.8% in May.

The 7.6% unemployment figure so common in headlines these days is utterly misleading. An estimated 22 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed; they are virtually invisible and mostly excluded from unemployment calculations that garner headlines.

This is one of the most astonishing bits of media dishonesty deployed to keep Barack Obama in office.  His economy is an absolute disaster.  His job market is terrifying.  But the press focuses relentlessly on aggregate numbers, instead of noting the hugely significant fact that most of Obama’s “job growth” really amounts to a long, agonizing process of mulching full-time jobs and spitting out part-time positions.  Even the deceptive unemployment rates Zuckerman references have been flat throughout the Obama years – why on Earth did any significant number of Americans accept a New Normal where even the “cooked” unemployment numbers are permanently stuck at 7 percent or higher?  But this illusion of malaise has concealed a fearsome collapse.

Later in his article, Zuckerman notes that a fearsome amount of Obama’s “job creation” is coming from the restaurant and hospitality industries, which are noted for low pay, short hours, and minimal growth potential.  He also points out that Obama’s workforce has actually contracted 2.2 percent from where it stood during the recession, something that has never happened before.  More people are leaving the workforce than finding jobs… but since both outcomes reduce the widely-reported U-3 unemployment rate, the public perceives the employment situation as less disastrous than it really is.

And yes, Empty Chair groupies, this is largely Obama’s fault.  His policies have involved high taxes (and the perpetual threat of raising them even more), high regulatory burdens, unnecessarily expensive energy, staggering levels of government debt, screwball market interventions from Solyndra to Cash for Clunkers, and increasing the cost of labor with his insane ObamaCare disaster.  We need pro-growth policies to nurse jobs in a robust economy.  Instead, Obama kicked off his second term by declaring war on the fantasy menace of global warming, and drawing up a list of the industries he’d like to kill.  Both through the practical effects of his policies, and the message he sends to investors and entrepreneurs, Obama and his allies have strangled the “recovery.”

The worst may be yet to come, because the business cycle rolls on, and the next major downturn – which may very well be initiated, or exacerbated, by international events – will come whether we’ve “recovered” enough to deal with it or not.  Obama’s disastrous transformation of the American job market may prove very difficult to reverse, because given a systemic and universal incentive to shift much of the workforce to part-time status in unison, employers may conclude they can get along with such a workforce just fine.

Meanwhile, the long-term unemployed grow increasingly desperate, as their job skills atrophy and their resumes look less attractive to employers who might be nervous about hiring people who haven’t had a job in six months or longer.  Many are tumbling into the pit of long-term disability, from which productive workers do not often return.  We don’t just have a lot of people looking for work; we have a growing class of “unemployables” who can never seem to find work, measured against a dwindling group of people who bounce in and out of the available jobs.

Zuckerman notes that quick fixes, like postponing the start date for the ObamaCare employer mandate, aren’t likely to yield systemic improvement.  (Seriously, who thinks business owners are going to rush out and hire more full-time employees during the extra year of grace from Obama’s health-care disaster, knowing that they’ll just have to fire those people, or downgrade them to part-time, one year later?)  Unfortunately, Zuckerman’s prescriptions for change are vague:

What the country clearly needs are policies that will encourage the modernization of America’s capital stock, where investment in modern production has plunged to the lowest levels in decades. Policies should also be targeted to nourish high-tech industries, which will in turn inspire the design and manufacture of products in the U.S. where they would be closer to the American market, spurring more hiring. This means preparing a skilled workforce, especially engineers suitable to work in manufacturing, and increasing the number of visas available to foreign graduate students in the hard sciences—who are now forced to leave America and who then work for foreign competitors.

Similarly, patent-application processing must be streamlined: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office should be a channel for innovation, but instead has for too long been and an impediment to the swift introduction of new ideas. Finally, the country should engage in a major infrastructure program to improve airports as America once did for railroads and highways. Air cargo and air travel are linchpins of the economy, yet air-traffic-control technology is stuck in the last century.

Why are we supposed to import foreign graduate students in the hard sciences, when American youth are taking on staggering debt loads to purchase useless college diplomas?  Are we just supposed to concede that the Left has ruined both primary and higher education forever, and resign ourselves to treating college as a hideously expensive money-laundering scheme for liberal academics – and a tool for keeping young people indentured to the Left with thick government-forged shackles of debt – while using visas to recruit people with decent educations from overseas?

Improving airports might be a good idea on its own merits, but is that really the jolt of defibrillator electricity Obama’s dead-parrot economy needs?  And I don’t think the current Administration can be trusted with any sort of “infrastructure” project.  We’re not going to break out of this death spiral with more government spending.  We need to reduce the burden on labor, remove regulator barriers to entrepreneurship, make investment more attractive, and become competitive for international investment.  (Note that I did not say “more competitive,” because under the current regime, we’re not really competitive at all.  We’re just lucky that many of the nations that would otherwise be beating our pants off are wrestling with problems of their own.)

Smaller government = bigger private sector = more wealth = more jobs.  It’s only complicated if you’re trying very hard to pretend it isn’t true.

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