Jobs Report: Unexpected Weakness Underscores Need For Action

Robert Borosage

For December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the economy added an unexpectedly low 74,000 new jobs in December, while the unemployment rate declined from 7.0 to 6.7 percent, largely because of people dropping out of the labor force.

The jobs number seems oddly low given surrounding reports and predictions, exposing the folly of relying on any variable monthly figures that are likely to be revised in the future. What counts is the trend.

And here the BLS reports are clear. The private sector continues to create jobs at an insufficient rate. There are still more than 20 million people in need of full-time work. Nearly four million are suffering long-term unemployment, struggling to find work for 27 weeks or more, an alarming rate of 37 percent of the unemployed.

Worse, most Americans still are not experiencing a recovery. Six years after the start of the Great Recession, America still has not regained all of the jobs lost, even though the population is larger. A lower percentage of the population has jobs. Indeed, in the four and one-half years since the start of the official “recovery,” the percentage of people employed has declined. Job creation is not keeping pace with the population six years later. A dramatically smaller percentage of Americans over 16 is working or looking for work now (62.8 percent) than at the beginning of the Great Recession (66 percent) or at the beginning of the “recovery” (65.7 percent).

When conservatives oppose extending emergency jobless benefits, they are ignoring this reality. This is not only cruel; it is ignorant. We do not need to bludgeon unemployed workers to find jobs. We need jobs for workers to find.

The December jobs report may be an anomaly. But the trend is not. Economists and pundits keep predicting that the economy is about to bust out, only to be disappointed. But even the “bust out” isn’t projecting much more than continued slow jobs growth.

We need federal action on jobs. Those who believe the recovery has sufficient momentum on its own are betting on hope and a wish. Austerity and the government shutdown cost the economy in 2013. It will cost the economy again in 2014.

Congress should pass a major initiative to rebuild America, investing in the sinews of the economy – from bridges to airports to the electric grid – putting people to work doing work that must be done. Congress should be increasing, not cutting, investments in new energy, research and development and innovation.

The deficits are already declining at a reckless rate not seen since the demobilization after World War II. (And if deficits are the concern politically, Congress could simply pay for major programs by closing the tax dodges that enable multinationals to escape taxes by reporting their profits abroad.)

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