Today's employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics – an additional 236,000 jobs in February with unemployment edging down to 7.7 percent – reveals an economy that keeps chugging along against rising headwinds. Most of the growth was in services, with manufacturing adding only a disappointing 14,000 jobs. Government continued to shed jobs, with education suffering the worst losses.
February’s numbers were better than the average job creation for the previous three months. But don’t break out the bubbly. We are still in a debilitating jobs recession. As these charts show, while corporate profits and the stock market are setting records, we still have 3 million fewer jobs than we had at the start of the recession. In a typical post-war recovery, the U.S. economy now would have had about 10 million more jobs than at the recession’s start.
The BLS statistics reflect this gloomy reality. There are still more than 20 million people in need of full-time work. Of those, 40.2 percent remain long-term unemployed (jobless for 27 weeks or more). February’s job growth did not budge the low employment-population ratio of 58.6 percent. At 13.8 percent, African-American unemployment remains more than twice the level of that of whites.
And this economy is facing harsher conditions ahead. The disruptions caused by the cuts in government spending are yet to be felt. Europe’s recession and divisions are deepening. While Japan has turned against austerity, the declining yen will impact our trade balance. China’s tightening is likely to lead to more aggressive export expansion.
Working families are still suffering a contained recession. Washington keeps pulling in two directions, with the extraordinary efforts of the Federal Reserve to prop up the economy undermined by the spending cuts and tax hikes passed by the Congress. With one oar pushing expansion and the other contraction, the economy is likely to remain adrift.