Monday, July 06, 2009

The story on unemployment

Adam and I were talking about this yesterday, about how real unemployement isn't being reported in most news outlets. The most-quoted figure I've seen is the 9.5% seasonally adjusted U-3, and when a number is that qualified you know it's not quite natural. I just looked up the U-6 measure (the most inclusive measurement) in the current statistics. The percentage of all employable people not working full-time jobs is 16.8%. The U-6 includes part-timers who are looking for full-time work as part of the figure, which is reasonable because a lot of them are part-time because of the economy. The number being reported in the news is the 9.7% U-3, which as you can see is a much more limited measurement.

Now, one thing to note is that the difference between June '08 and June '09 using these two indices tell two different stories. From June '08 to June '09, the U-3 went from 5.7% to 9.7%, a 4% change. The U-6 changed from 10.3% to 16.8%, a change of 6.5%. So the net change in employment is also worse than is being reported. Some of this is people being shunted into part-time jobs, but the U-1 is a measure of how many people have been unemployed more than 15 weeks or longer, and that has risen from 1.8% to 4.8%. Jobs have really just vanished.

The question is, even when the economy starts growing again, how many full-time jobs are going to come back for people? Even when the economy was supposedly so great back in the Bush years (coming off the Clinton high, that is), people were struggling. Just read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. Actually I think I've blogged on that subject plenty of times. We keep hearing about how the recession is supposed to end this year or that we may already be at the tail and the economy is starting to recover; we hear that jobs lag behind the economy in general. Either of these things may be true; neither of them means that Americans will be getting well-paid full-time jobs with benefits. Is there any way to change that?

I don't know the answer to that, but it lies in what industries are going to make the biggest turnaround. I honestly don't think that even if the automakers come around and turn profitable, they'll end up re-hiring a lot of people. They're cutting back as much as possible and if their salvation lies in competing with the foreign auto makers, they're going to be making more of fewer kinds of vehicles, which means less workers. America needs growth industries that we can take the lead in. We need to invest in an infrastructure to produce new kinds of goods and services that other countries can't compete with. Things like clean energy, health care and medicine, or eco-science, that the world needs but which can also be profitable industries. It's time to do something new.

Update: Xanthippas just let me know about this article, pointing out estimates of the real number of unemployed, which is well above even the U-6. Read the article for an explanation of how these numbers are arrived at:

By adding these folks back in, William's SGS-Alternate Unemployment Measure rose to a jaw-dropping 20.6%. Separately, the Center for Labor Market Studies in Boston puts U.S. unemployment at 18.2%. Any way you cut the numbers, the situation is very bad. According to David Rosenberg, one-in-three among the unemployed have been looking for a job for more than six months and still can't find one.

That's about 1 in 5 employable people either unemployed or underemployed. This recession is far from over.

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