The March jobs report – 192,000 jobs with the unemployment rate remaining at 6.7 percent – is simply more of the same: an economy growing too slowly to make a major dent in continued mass unemployment.
This is the 49th straight month of private jobs creation, as the White House will report. The unemployment rate has fallen from its 2009 height of 10 percent.
But there are still fewer jobs now than there were in December 2007 before the Great Recession, even as the population has grown. The employment-to-population ratio remained unchanged this month at 58.9 percent, far below pre-recession levels. Long-term unemployment, at 3.7 million, changed little, and remains at historically elevated heights. Jobs growth continues to be concentrated in lower-wage jobs – temporary help services, service in restaurants and bars.
Mass unemployment produces human tragedy, increases in suicides, cancers, divorces and depression. It translates into stagnant wages. The optimism of the young is crushed. Homes are lost. Families divided. This is also a tragedy for the nation, as its potential for growth is eroded. We spend money on misery rather than investing in promise.
Inside the Beltway, the tendency is to see this tragedy as the new normal. The Federal Reserve is “tapering” off its extraordinary purchases of securities, although Fed chair Janet Yellen continues to raise alarms about employment. The Congress remains committed to austerity budgets, costing jobs rather than stimulating them. Federal government employment dropped, and is down 85,000 jobs over the course of the year.
We need bold and immediate action. Extended support for the long-term unemployed should be immediately reinstated. The Congress should turn from austerity to bold steps to put people to work on work that needs to be done: service corps for the young, a big infrastructure program to rebuild and modernize the country, aid to states to rehire teachers, steps to make child care affordable and extend preschool to all.
Ironically, those concerned that America is too far in debt should be arguing for, not against, bold action now. Austerity in these conditions only slows growth, making deficit reduction more difficult. The Congressional Budget Office has just added about $1 trillion to its projected deficits because it has lowered its estimates of America’s growth potential. The most sophisticated economic analysis concludes that increasing government spending now will help generate the growth that actually reduces deficits and debt in the long term.