Commentary Magazine


Topic: labor force

A Very Ugly Jobs Report

I wanted to add to John’s fine summary of today’s jobs report.

It really is a very ugly set of data.

It’s not simply that unemployment has been above 8 percent for a record 39 months, which is bad enough. While news stories report that 115,000 new jobs were added in April, the true picture is much worse. More than 340,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force last month. The total employment level for April fell 169,000. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, who is hardly a conservative and has been quite sympathetic to President Obama, admits that unemployment “went down for the wrong reason: people dropping out of the labor force.”

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I wanted to add to John’s fine summary of today’s jobs report.

It really is a very ugly set of data.

It’s not simply that unemployment has been above 8 percent for a record 39 months, which is bad enough. While news stories report that 115,000 new jobs were added in April, the true picture is much worse. More than 340,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force last month. The total employment level for April fell 169,000. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, who is hardly a conservative and has been quite sympathetic to President Obama, admits that unemployment “went down for the wrong reason: people dropping out of the labor force.”

He’s quite right. The labor force participation rate (64.3 percent) reached its lowest level in more than 30 years, while the employment-population ratio (58.4 percent) is lower still.

According to Jim Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute, if labor force participation had stayed the same in April as it was in March, the unemployment rate would have risen by three-tenths of a percent (to 8.4 percent). And if the labor force participation rate today was what it was when Obama took office, the unemployment rate would be roughly 11 percent. The real unemployment rate, including those who are working part-time due to economic reasons, now clocks in at nearly 15 percent (14.5).

“In the weakest recovery since the Great Depression, more than four-fifths of the reduction in unemployment has been accomplished by a dropping adult labor force participation rate — essentially persuading adults they don’t need a job, or the job they could find is not worth having,” according to University of Maryland economist Peter Morici.

Any way you slice it, last month’s jobs report is dispiriting. The unemployment rate, which is already at historically high levels, is being kept artificially low because of growing despair and hopelessness. The will and energy of many Americans is being ground to dust.

We know what Obama sounded like in theory (hope, change, unity, prosperity). Now we know what Obamaism looks like in practice. It isn’t a pretty sight. And I’m afraid the president is affirming the observation of Camus, which is that destruction is an easier, speedier process than reconstruction. But at least let the reconstruction begin.

The prerequisite for that to occur, it seems, is for Obama to be a one-term president.

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