April Jobs Report: Bitter Sweet

Robert Borosage

The topline of the April BLS jobs report – a better than expected 288,000 jobs added, with the unemployment rate plummeting to 6.3% – will be celebrated, particularly in contrast to the collapse of growth in the first quarter (initially estimated at 0.1% but likely negative ).   The economy has now added private sector jobs for 50 straight months.

But under the topline, the news is less cheery. The sharp decline in the unemployment rate reflects a decline of the civilian labor force of 806,000 in April. The employment-population ratio (58.9%) shows no change over the month – and has changed little over the year, remaining at levels last since in the early 1980s.

20 million Americans remain in need of full-time work. Five years into the recovery, the US has still not recovered all of the jobs lost in the recession, even as its population has grown significantly.

The good news is that the number of long-term unemployed dropped by 287,000 in April. But the long-term unemployed remain a high 35.3% of the unemployed (up from pre-recession levels of 18%).

Job growth was widespread across the economy, suggesting the recovery is taking root. But the new jobs continue to be disproportionately in lower wage industries – retail clerks, restaurants, bars, temporary help. Construction jobs rose, in part buoyed by the end of the bad weather of the first quarter. Government employed remained essentially flat.

Democrats will cheer the continuing jobs growth. Republicans will continue to rail about jobs, while blocking any measures that would put people back to work. But if this is the new normal, the young will continue to face a miserable jobs market. African-Americans will continue to suffer double-digit unemployment. Families will continue to struggle with stagnant wages. Inequality will get worse. The middle class will continue to sink.  And America will suffer a lost decade.

This is not inevitable. It is the result of a perverse failure of Congress to act. Our decrepit infrastructure is a clear and present danger to the lives of Americans and the competitiveness of our economy. (See video of Baltimore street collapsing earlier this week in a rain storm here.)

Interest rates remain near record lows. Construction workers continue to need work. There is still not a better time to rebuild the country. Yet, Republicans in the Congress continue to block every initiative to add jobs. Indeed, the Congress now must scramble simply to keep the Highway Trust Fund from going broke at the end of August. They are not only refusing to throw lifelines to those who are drowning; they are cutting the lines that exist.

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