Media headlines are crowing over the drop in the unemployment rate—but we need to look closer.
Image from Flickr via born1945
By Robert Reich
By arrangement with Robert Reich.
The White House is breathing easier this morning. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent—the first time it’s been under 8 percent in 43 months.
In political terms, headlines are everything—and most major media are leading with the drop in the unemployment rate.
Look more closely, though, and the picture is murkier. According to the separate payroll survey undertaken by the BLS, just 114,000 new jobs were added in September. At least 125,000 are needed per month just to keep up with population growth. Yet August’s job number was revised upward to 142,000, and July’s to 181,000.
In other words, we’re still crawling out of the deep crater we fell into in 2008 and 2009. The percent of the working-age population now working or actively looking for work is higher than it was, but still near a thirty-year low.
But at least we’re crawling out.
Romney says we’re not doing well enough, and he’s right. But the prescriptions he’s offering – more tax cuts for the rich and for big companies—won’t do anything except enlarge the budget deficit. And the cuts he proposes in public investments like education and infrastructure, and safety nets like Medicare and Medicaid, will take money out of the pockets of people who not only desperately need it but whose spending is necessary to keep the tepid recovery going.
Romney promises if elected the economy will create 12 million new jobs in his first term. If we were back in a normal economy, that number wouldn’t be hard to reach. Bill Clinton presided over an economy that generated 22 million new jobs in eight years – and that was more than a decade ago when the economy and working-age population were smaller than now.
Both Obama and Romney assume the recovery will continue, even at a slow pace, and that we’ll be back to normal at some point. But I’m not at all sure. “Normal” is what got us into this mess in the first place. The concentration of income and wealth at the top has robbed the vast middle class of the purchasing power it needs to generate a full recovery – something that was masked by borrowing against rising home values, but can no longer be denied. Unless or until this structural problem is dealt with, we won’t be back to normal.
By arrangement with Robert Reich.
Robert B. Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.
Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.