In watching the unfolding of the monthly reports from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, I’ve been struck by the rhythm and pacing of the economic recovery that has occurred in the 5-6 years that have now elapsed since the recession of 2008-2009. Last months figures, release on Friday, March 7, show only that the groove we’ve been stuck in for so long apparently has walls that are high enough to make it hard for the tracking needle to attempt an escape.
Though the numbers aren’t as bad as most economists had predicted they would be, US job growth trends remain stuck in first gear.
Here are some details, which track our prior progress far too nicely to match my hopes for a stronger recovery:
1. Overall employment remains unchanged at 6.7 percent (still at least 1.5 percent higher than what most economists would like to see).
2. Little or no change for more detailed unemployment rates for various demographic groups, ranging from a low for whites of 5.8 percent to teenagers at 21.4 percent.
3. An increase in the long-term unemployed in February of 203,000, which beats the 175,000 new jobs created for that same month by 28,000. The BLS reports the total of long-term unemployed (those out of work for 27 or more weeks) at 3.8 million right now, but many economists believe this number to be under-reported significantly, because of offsetting counts for part-time workers (many of whom would be working full-time if they could find full-time jobs) and non-counting of “discouraged workers” who’ve essentially withdrawn from the work force entirely because they believe there are no jobs for them to find. The BLS does count “marginally attached workers” (not in the labor force, available for work, and have looked for a job sometime in the past calendar year) at an additional 2.3 million.
4. Civilian labor force participation remains pegged at 63 percent, which is down one-half point from a year ago. This fundamental measure needs to come up a point or two to bring the kinds of across-the-board improvements that could matter most to workers everywhere.
5. The information sector took a 16,000-job hit for February of which 14,000 of the jobs lost in that sector came from the motion picture and sound recording sub-field (where “employment in this industry can be volatile from month to month” as this latest report pithily observes).
Where’s a silver bullet when you really need one? With these numbers, and the trends they depict, it’s awfully hard to see one coming this way any time soon. It looks just like what we’ve seen before so frequently in the past year, is what we’ll keep seeing for some time to come!