Scavenging for good news in the jobs data

September 4, 2009

Interpreting the employment numbers has become an exercise in scavenging for good news. After a year of beefy job losses, any sign that the pace of deterioration is slowing is certainly welcome. Were it not for the Obama stimulus package, we would probably be continuing to see job declines of closer to half a million a month.

Even so, the data still don’t offer much hope of a vigorous recovery.

While layoffs are declining, there are precious few signs that companies are hiring. As a result the number of people without work for more than six months has reached an alarming 5 million.

In addition, the swelling of the U.S. population means that the nation needs to create about 130,000 jobs a month just to stand still. This helps explain why unemployment rose by 466,000.

The total number of employment casualties since the start of the recession (December 2007) is fast approaching 7 million. We may still have another year of falling employment ahead.

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