The May Jobs Report: The Unexceptional and Unacceptable Normal

Robert Borosage

The May jobs report – 217,000 new jobs with unemployment rate unchanged at 6.3 percent – was largely as predicted. The U.S. economy has finally surpassed the peak jobs level reached before the Great Recession nearly five-and-one-half years later.

The jobs growth is barely exceeding the growth in the workforce. The long-term unemployed remained over one-third (34.6 percent) of the total unemployed, a rate that will presumably drop as the failure to extend unemployment benefits will lead more to give up looking for work altogether. Over 19 million Americans are in need of full-time work – unemployed, forced into part-time work, or discouraged.

Perhaps the clearest measure of the failure to launch is the employment-population ratio. At 58.9 percent, it was unchanged in May and has changed little over the year, remaining at levels not seen since the early 1980s. The labor force participation rate – the percent of civilian population employed or looking for work – remained unchanged, mired at levels last seen in 1978.

The stock market is reaching new heights. The Federal Reserve continues to unwind its exceptional measures. The administration touts the record number of months of private sector growth. CEO salaries continue to soar.

But at this level of job creation and this level of employment, the economy is failing to work for working families. Wages will continue to fall behind the price of necessities. The young, people of color and older workers who lose their jobs will continue to find it hard to find decent full-time work.

This report is becoming the norm – but it cannot be the new normal. It represents Washington’s failure, not its success. It comes as Congress is failing to vote on extended unemployment benefits, failing to replenish the highway trust fund, failing to vote for raising the minimum wage, failing to provide any increased investment in rebuilding an infrastructure that is increasingly dangerous to our health.

There is no excuse – only the reality that Congress, crippled by Republican obstruction, is continuing policies that are working only for the very few and not for the many.

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