Show Me the Jobs

For the past several weeks, President Bush has been barnstorming the country to tell us the good news -- the nation's payrolls grew by 308,000 in the month of March, the largest one month jump in four years. "People are finding jobs, and the nation's future is bright. America's families and workers have reason to be optimistic."

So what are these "new jobs?" Well, 13,000 of them are California grocery workers returning to work after an extended strike. Another 31,000 represent new government jobs. 71,000 "new jobs" are in the construction industry, a seasonal upswing independent of the President's policies. 11,000 "new jobs" are in credit intermediation, reflecting the surge in home refinancing due to low interest rates. And 36,000 "new jobs" are in health care or social assistance, jobs created to help people who no longer have jobs.

What the President fails to mention is the bad news. As New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) remarked: "Only in the Bush 'economic recovery' can our country gain jobs and increase the unemployment rate in the same month."

Unemployment figures rose in March for all adult workers across the board, irrespective of race, gender, or income level. Fewer whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics had jobs in March than they did in February. Only teenagers showed a slight drop in the jobless rate, sliding from 16.6% unemployment in February to 16.5% in March.

2.4 million U.S. jobs have disappeared since the recession began 33 months ago. 331,000 jobs were lost last year, on top of 1.5 million jobs lost in 2002.

The last time payroll employment fell in two consecutive years was at the end of World War II, as war-related manufacturing declined. The current figures stand in stark contrast to the average of 300,000 new jobs created every month between 1995 and 2000. And as a recent study by economists at the New York Federal Reserve Bank shows, a far greater share of recent layoffs have been permanent, rather than the temporary cyclical layoffs which occurred in most previous recessions.

Some 8.4 million people who want to work are still out of work. Manufacturing employment has been stagnant at 14.3 million since the last quarter of 2003. The Economic Policy Institute reports that manufacturing has lost three million jobs since its most recent peak four years ago. "As a share of total employment, manufacturing has fallen from 13.1% to 11%, a sharp rate of decline in historical terms."

The only noticeable sector in which jobs are surging is temp work, which added 212,000 jobs over the past year, a measure of the desperation of those looking for full-time permanent jobs, but unable to find them.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: "In March, the number of persons who worked part-time for economic reasons increased to 4.7 million, up 300,000 since February. Those individuals indicated that they would like to work full-time but were working part-time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time jobs."

BLS figures show that the number of persons who were "marginally attached to the labor force" was 1.6 million in March, roughly the same as one year ago. "These individuals wanted to work and were available to work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months, but were not counted among the unemployed because they had not actively searched for work in the four weeks preceding the survey."

In March, there were more than half a million "discouraged workers," about the same as last year. "Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, were not currently looking for work specifically because they believed no jobs were available for them."

Taken together, the unemployed, discouraged workers, and those marginally attached to the workforce made up 9.9% of the civilian labor force in March. That statistic does not include those employed below their skill level, those who are out of work but designated as self-employed, those whose wages and hours have been cut as a result of the recession, and those whose unemployment benefits have run out.

The long-term unemployed, those who have been out of work for at least six months, rose one percentage point in March to 23.9% of the jobless, the highest level since July 1983, when the unemployment rate was 9.3%. By the middle of 2004, benefits will expire for an estimated additional two million unemployed workers.

In March, the average (non-farm) work week fell to 33.7 hours, the manufacturing work week decreased to 40.9 hours, and real average weekly wages for working Americans decreased by 0.7%.

So where does President Bush's good news come from? Corporate profits have risen 57.5% since the first quarter of 2001, while private wage and salary income has fallen 1.7%. According to Business Week, the average compensation for CEO's of large corporations in 2003 was $8.1 million, up 9.1% from the previous year. In the Bush lexicon, that's called a "recovery."

My thanks to James Crotty, Professor of Economics, UMass, Amherst and staff economist at the Center for Popular Economics (populareconomics.org) and to Betsy Leondar-Wright at United for a Fair Economy (ufenet.org) for helping me navigate the chasm between the illusion of job creation and the reality.

Judith Gorman is regular contributor to AlterNet.

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