Today’s report of 200,000 jobs created in December means that the economy is barely growing at the rate needed to keep up with the growth of the labor force. Economists estimate that the U.S. will have to create more than 350,000 jobs per month – for the next three years – to get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent.The fact that the unemployment rate has declined to 8.5 percent has got to mean that many more people have become so discouraged that they stopped looking for work (and thus are not counted as part of the labor force).
The U.S. economy needs 4 percent to 5 percent growth to replace the 5.2 million jobs lost since 2007 and to keep up with new people who need jobs. But most forecasters predict that our economy will be lucky to grow at a 2 to 3 percent rate this year.
Clearly, if we don’t want to stay stuck at high levels of unemployment – and the growing inequality that comes with stagnant growth — our government needs to take stronger steps to create jobs. Instead, Republicans in the Congress are still threatening to remove stimulus from the economy by blocking extension of unemployment benefits and continuation of President Obama’s middle-class tax cuts. Today’s report will add public pressure on Republicans to renew those policies before the two-month temporary extension expires next month.
But we have to do much more than continuing last year’s modest stimulus. Americans need to pressure their representatives to take advantage of record low interest rates to invest in public infrastructure, energy conservation and renewables, and education. These are investments our economy needs to make anyway – and if we make them now, we can create enough jobs to escape today’s way-too-modest levels of growth and move our country to full employment.
While the number of private sector jobs continues to grow, government employment, driven by state and local layoffs, declined by 12,000 in December. If the Federal government had continued the original Obama policy of financial aid to the states to keep those public servants employed, private sector firms could have benefited from the paychecks and economic demand of those public workers, leading to more private investment and job growth. Instead, layoffs of local government workers hurt overall growth.
In summary, today’s jobs report shows that our economy continues to struggle to create jobs. After more than two years of official `recovery,’ we are still not growing fast enough to make significant dents in the unemployment rate (and much of this month’s decline comes from discouraged workers giving up on their job search).
The good news is that job creation is positive, but as Europe imposes job-killing austerity and the world economy teeters on the edge of a new recession, Americans cannot allow conservative politicians to cripple the economy by slashing public spending. We will be pushing Republicans to renew unemployment insurance and middle class tax cuts. However, Americans—who all the polls show want to get beyond today’s status quo—will also be pressing politicians of both parties to put forward plans for investment and economic growth that can revive the American Dream of full employment and economic mobility.