Jobs Report: A Call To Action

Isaiah J. Poole

Moments after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its report that the economy produced 162,000 jobs in March, this statement was issued on Capitol Hill: ““Any report showing that the economy added jobs is clearly a better alternative to one showing that it lost more jobs. Yet we must set our sights higher, our goals larger, and our actions bolder.”

Breaking news: House Republican Whip Eric Cantor and I agree on something.

The Obama administration is touting this month’s report as a vindication of its policies, and, to a point, it should. For when Cantor and his conservative colleagues in Congress were counseling anything but boldness—doubling down on the policies of tax cuts for the rich and deregulation for the financial sector that gave us record economic stagnation, record debt and a near-record financial collapse—the administration pushed an economic stimulus plan through Congress that at least put a floor under the falling economy.

But the reality is that now we have to set our sights far higher, our goals much larger, and our actions much bolder. This jobs report is not a cause for celebration. It is a call to action. Consider some facts embedded in the March data:

  • We’re far from creating enough jobs to satisfy the demand. While there were 162,000 new jobs in March, the labor force grew by 398,000. As a result, the number of unemployed people in March actually went up by 134,000.
  • The number of people who have been unemployed 27 weeks or more increased by 414,000. We now have 6.54 million workers who have been out of work more than six months, a record level of economic devastation for them and their families with serious long-term implications for our economy and our society.
  • The number of people who said they could only find part-time work was 176,000 higher in March than in February.
  • About one-fourth of the net new jobs created in the private sector were “temporary help” positions. So were most, if not all, of the 48,000 net new jobs in the federal government, as temporary Census 2010 jobs are being filled.
  • State and local governments continue to shed jobs; together, those sectors cut 9,000 jobs in March. Without dramatic action at the federal level, those job losses are expected to accelerate in the coming months as budget cuts to balance shrinking budgets kick in.
  • While there are some encouraging signs for growth in the kinds of good-paying jobs that can support a middle-class family—manufacturing was up 17,000 jobs, continuing an upward trend, for example—much of the job growth continues to be concentrated in low-wage service jobs. Meanwhile, the March jobs report shows a 0.1 percent decline in average hourly wages.

Suffice it to say this jobs report does little if anything to quell the restlessness in working-class communities over the state of the economy. President Obama could do much to convince the public that he is taking actions that match his rhetoric by throwing his full weight behind such initiatives as the Local Jobs for America Act, which would pour $100 million into secure, public-service jobs in local communities. That legislation would prevent many of the job cuts that are depriving the private-sector jobs engine of the fuel it needs.

Obama could show boldness by repeatedly making the case that while lowering the federal deficit is a critical imperative, the conservative prescription of retrenched government spending and more tax cuts for the wealthy would make reducing the federal deficit even harder. More than eight years of stagnation in the real economy is what has helped to make this recession as deep as it has been. Whenever conservatives say that we cannot afford to spend $100 million to put people back to work or keep them from being laid off, the clear answer is that what we really can’t afford is eight more years of no real income growth among the middle class, increased concentration of wealth at the very top, a continued exodus of jobs overseas and the Wall Street pattern of casino gambling on exotic financial products while needed Main Street investments go begging.

The consequences of not being bold are made clear in an Economic Policy Institute brief this week that outlines some worrying trends about the nation’s ability to rebound from recessions. Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz write that even though the current economic recovery may no longer be technically a “jobless” recovery, the fact is “the unemployment rate will likely not fall substantially for a year or even longer.”

More sobering, the authors say, is the fact that after the seven recessions that occurred between the end of World War II and 1980, employment levels would bounce back to pre-recession levels an average of 11 months after the recession officially ended. But after 1980, that recovery time has lengthened dramatically. “Following the 1990 recession it took 23 months to reach the pre-recession peak; following the 2001 recession it took 39 months,” the report said.

Both of those recessions were under the stewardship of conservatives.

Given that past history, “The most hopeful scenario, with employment rising at the rate that characterized the 1980s recession, would see employment regaining its pre-recession peak by September 2011 if this employment growth started in February 2010 (which is an optimistic assumption). If employment grew at the rate characterizing the 1990s and 2000s employment recoveries, this December 2007 peak would be regained in May 2013 and November 2014, respectively.”

We definitely cannot afford to wait that long. We need what some have called a “jobs surge,” led by federal spending, paid for in the short term by such measures as a modest transactions tax on stock trades and financed in the long term by the economic growth that would be sparked by the federal jobs spark.

We must set our sights higher, for more than 400,000 jobs a month. We must set our goals larger, for stable middle-class jobs that can sustain a family and provide stability and hope for the future. Our actions must be bolder, with our government leading the way with investments in infrastructure, education, public service and a new, clean-energy-based industrial economy. It is too bad that when conservatives say “bold,” that’s not what the really mean. But that’s the boldness with which President Obama should lead.

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