The New Jobs Report Suggests America Is Years Away from a True Recovery

Agenda-Setting Financial Insight.
Nov. 2 2012 2:51 PM

The New Jobs Report Is Good News for Obama. And No One Else.

President Obama.
President Obama may be buoyed by the new jobs numbers, but nobody else will be.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

There’s something rotten with the American jobs picture – even if it’s not immediately apparent from the latest report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In October the economy created 171,000 new jobs, and 84,000 more were added to previous months’ tallies. That’s good for President Barack Obama’s re-election chances. But only half the recession’s job losses have been regained, and with the recovery from each recession becoming harder to overcome than the previous one, it’s clear the next president will need to grapple with some deep structural problems to succeed.

By historical standards, America’s recovery from the 2008 recession has been anomalously weak. Between 1958 and 1982 the economy recovered quickly, with jobs lost in downturns fully regained within 10 or 11 months, including the severe recession of 1982, whose peak unemployment rate exceeded 2010’s. Something happened in the past 20 years, however. After the 1990-91 downturn the jobs market took 21 months to fully rebound. After the 2001-02 dip, full employment recovery took 31 months. This time around, 32 months have passed since the jobs nadir of February 2010, and only 53 percent of the jobs lost have been recovered.

Advertisement

With this trend stretching over 30 years, and intensifying each time, it’s not obvious that bad policy alone is the culprit. Part of the problem is the decrease in manufacturing; when much of the workforce consisted of low-skilled manufacturing jobs, a rebound quickly put people back to work. Globalization may also be a factor; jobs lost to competitors from low-wage emerging markets are more difficult to recover. Trends like cheaper money, encouraging the substitution of capital for labor; and longer-lasting unemployment benefits, now 99 weeks compared to the traditional 26 weeks, have been in place long enough to bear part of the blame.

The disquieting thought is that the jobs market may not fully recover at all. The 30 months needed to recover the remainder of positions lost (without absorbing new job market entrants) is statistically destined to bump into the next recession. Either way, policy should change; measures appropriate for a job market that recovers in ten months are inadequate for an employment downturn lasting half a decade. Whoever wins on Tuesday had better start thinking fast.

Martin Hutchinson covers emerging markets and economic policy, drawing on 25 years of experience as an international merchant banker. He ran derivatives platforms for two European banks, before serving as director of a Spanish venture capital company, advisor to the Korean conglomerate Sunkyong and chairman of a U.S. modular building company

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.