Jobs Report: ‘Better Than Expected’ Doesn’t Change What We Must Do

Isaiah J. Poole

The buzz today over a surprisingly positive jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics should not obscure the big picture. Job-seekers are still suffering because of the reckless spending cuts and legislative obstruction forced onto the country by intransigent tea-party conservatives are killing job growth.

Today’s news that the economy added 204,000 jobs in October, and more jobs than originally calculated in the previous three months, does not change the fact that House Republicans must be held accountable for their blocking sensible proposals to accelerate economic growth and lower the still-too-high unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate in October ticked upward to 7.3 percent, and the labor force participation rate is continuing to fall – it is now under 63 percent. (Some of that decline is the effect of the October government shutdown, which was ongoing when the Labor Departments did its household employment survey.)

The number of people who are looking for full-time work – the unemployed and people who are working part-time because they can’t get a full-time job – still stands at almost 20 million.

The economy has generated an average of 190,000 jobs a month over the past year – way below the number of jobs we need to create in order to close the jobs gap created by the Great Recession. At the rate we’re going, it would take us the rest of the decade to get the economy back to where it was before the economy crashed at the beginning of 2008. That is unacceptable, and should command an urgent and forceful response from our elected leadership.

An earlier Labor Department report showed that there is still, four years after the supposed end of the Great Recession, only one available job opening for every three unemployed people. Today’s “new normal” job market is no better than the worst unemployment conditions job-seekers experienced in the early 2000s recession, Economic Policy Institute economist Heidi Shierholz wrote in her analysis. More tellingly, she writes, “there are between 1.3 and 9.8 times as many unemployed workers as job openings in every industry. In other words, even in the industry with the most favorable ratio of unemployed workers to job openings (finance and insurance), there are still 30 percent more unemployed workers than job openings. In no industry does the number of job openings even come close to the number of people looking for work.”

President Obama’s American Jobs Act proposals, callously tossed aside by House Republicans, should be the minimum that we should consider doing to repair the remaining damage from the Great Recession and the ongoing damage done by Republican obstruction. Had Congress enacted this plan for $50 billion in infrastructure spending, $25 billion in school repair and modernization, and $35 billion in aid to states and municipalities to prevent layoffs of teachers and first responders, we would likely have 1.9 million fewer people unemployed, and our unemployment rate would be a full percentage point lower, Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics said.

Instead, the budget cuts that conservative lawmakers promised would help bolster private sector job growth are actually reducing job growth — by about 1.2 million jobs this year.

Federal spending ended the 2013 fiscal year 4 percent below what it was last year, and the 2013 federal deficit is more than 30 percent smaller than last year’s. Conservatives in Congress have gotten their spending cuts – to the nation’s detriment. Now is the time for the champions of working people in Congress to draw a line in the sand as Congress negotiates a spending plan for 2014 and beyond: Repeal the sequester. Say no to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits; these cuts also dampen growth and threaten jobs. Go after the tax havens and tax evasion schemes corporations and the wealthy use to escape paying their fair share of taxes. And then make smart, targeted spending increases in the things we know will boost the economy, create jobs, and set the country up for long-term prosperity and global economic competitiveness.

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