February’s “Pleasant Surprise” Jobs Report Shows What Is Happening To Middle Class

Dave Johnson

Buried in the “pleasant surprise” (NPR) of Friday’s “stunning” (USAToday) February jobs report were some numbers that better-reflect the reality of America’s declining middle class. Things are pretty bad when you call 7.7% — and that due to people giving up on looking for a job — “pleasant.”

The February jobs report was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. If that is the new standard by which we judge the strength and fairness of our economy… well I have a falling-down-due-to-lack-of-infrastructure-repair bridge to sell you. Of the people finally being hired too many are moving into part-time and low-wage jobs. Both part-time workers who would like full-time jobs, and those “marginally attached to the labor force” rose.

From the BLS release,

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 8.0 million, was essentially unchanged in February. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

… the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was about unchanged at 4.8 million. These individuals accounted for 40.2 percent of the unemployed.

EPI explains the problem, in February caps off three years of job growth, but much more is needed to fill employment deficit

The strong showing in February is very welcome, but it is useful to put it in context. We have a jobs deficit of 8.9 million jobs (the 3 million we are still down from when the recession started, plus the 5.9 million we should have added over this period to keep up with growth in the potential labor force). Even at February’s growth rate, we wouldn’t get back to the prerecession unemployment rate until mid-2017. The jobs deficit is so large that to return to the prerecession unemployment rate by February 2016, another three years from now, we would have to add 320,000 jobs every single month between now and then.

… The share of unemployed workers who have been jobless for more than six months increased to 40.2 percent in February … far above its prerecession share of 17.4 percent in December 2007.

Before we give up and accept 7.7% unemployment, 8 million people working part time who want full time jobs, 4.8 million more unemployment for more then 27 weeks, and 40% of us making less than the 1968 minimum wage if it had kept up with productivity growth, let’s talk about things we can do to fix the problem. Like investing in modernizing our infrastructure, investing in making all of our buildings and homes energy-efficient, hiring back all the teachers who have been laid off, and things like that. We need a We, the People economy. We need jobs, and jobs fix deficits.

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