August Jobs Report: The Folly Continues

Robert Borosage

The Labor Department’s August jobs report – headlined by a disappointing creation of 142,000 new jobs with the unemployment rate “little changed” at 6.1 percent – reflects our reality: a sustained but far too slow economic recovery. The August jobs figure is below the monthly average for the year, and is barely enough to cover new entrants into the workforce.

The U.S. has enjoyed 54 consecutive months of economic growth, longest stretch of consistent job growth on record. But if the economy is in recovery, most Americans aren’t sharing in it. The growth is too slow to produce full-time work for those who need it, too slow to bring discouraged workers back into the economy, and too slow to lift wages.

There are still 19 million Americans in need of full-time work. The fraction of Americans employed or looking for work – the labor force participation rate – at 62.8 percent has not recovered from the recession, remaining at the lowest levels in three decades. Long-term unemployment came down in August, but remains at high levels, above pre-recession levels in a majority of states.

The report shows average hourly wage growth over the last year at 2.1 percent, which means most working families are not earning enough to keep up with rising costs of basics.

The report will likely be hailed as good news by the administration and greeted with relief by investors. The growth continues, but isn’t so great that the Federal Reserve need change its low-interest-rate policies.

But for Americans, the reality will only reinforce deepening doubts. Seventy percent of Americans are convinced the economy has undergone permanent changes for the worse since the recession, while just one in six believes job opportunities for the next generation will be better than for theirs. Two-thirds say Americans are “not secure in their jobs.” Nearly one-half believe the economy is still in recession, which isn’t surprising since over 40 percent report that they have less money in the bank now than they did when the recession began.

This report trumpets the need for federal action. The Federal Reserve can’t lower interest rates any further. We suffer this slow recovery because Congress – blocked by relentless Republican obstruction – refuses to act to get the economy going. With interest rates near record lows, this is the time to rebuild America – to rebuild our aging and increasingly dangerous infrastructure, to modernize our transport and energy, to retrofit our buildings for energy efficiency – and put people to work.

Nearly one in five teenagers is officially unemployed, looking for work and unable to find it. Black teenage unemployment remains nearly twice that. This is an avoidable tragedy in the making. The partisan venom, the ideological idiocy, the breathtaking complacency of the Republican majority in the House that has blocked all jobs initiatives while railing at Obama’s failure is cause for outrage, not resignation.

The August jobs report makes it clear. This economy still does not work for working families. And it isn’t implacable fate; it is irresponsible folly that creates that sad reality.

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