Politics

05.03.13

The Jobs Numbers: The Economy and Its Enemies

So the jobs numbers are good. The unemployment rate is down another tick to 7.5 percent (and is down a respectable .4 percent this year). We gained 16,000 non-farm jobs last month, but the revisions upward of the previous months were huge--February to 332,000, for example, up from 268,000, and March up 50,000 to 138,000. This follows a pattern that's been in place for some time, so we can reasonably expect that next month, this month will be revised upward into the range of 200,000.

Yes, the labor-force participation rate is still low, and yes, the number of people employed part-time increased, for those of you looking for black linings. But were some positive trends below the top-line numbers as well:

In April, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) declined by 258,000 to 4.4 million; their share of the unemployed declined by 2.2 percentage points to 37.4 percent. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed has decreased by 687,000, and their share has declined by 3.1 percentage points.

I am not the only person to have this thought this morning, but numbers like these--mind you, not great, but certainly good--do make one wonder what the economy might be doing if one of our two major political parties wasn't trying to sabotage it to prevent the president from looking good. And please, spare me the comments about how that's a heavy charge to level. It's so obvious at this point that it shouldn't even be controversial. The Republicans are demanding an austerity that nearly every economist agrees is harming economic growth.

It is impossible--or at least it is impossible for me, a non-economist--to say what the numbers would be if the public sector were making prudent but sufficient investments in the private sector instead of imposing a willy-nilly set of cuts that are now beginning to effect employment in a range of areas from defense to scientific research. But I have read of estimates that if the public-sector layoffs hadn't been so massive in recent years, the jobless rate would be down around 7 percent.

It was last below 7 percent in November 2008, the month Obama was elected (although of course the meltdown had happened so everyone knew it was headed skyward). It would be a great f-you to the saboteurs if the guy leaves office with a number down near the 6.1 we had when Bush's meltdown hit. Even the Green-Lantern crowd might be impressed by that.