No hiring yet

By Felix Salmon
January 8, 2010
Today's payrolls report is entirely consistent with the kind of recovery where the employment situation is going to remain grim even if and when corporate profits start picking up. I like the fact that the unemployment rate for adult men, at 10.2%, is down 0.4 percentage points from its October peak. But total underemployment -- the famous U-6 -- is still extremely and stubbornly high at 17.3%, and the total number of unemployed persons, at 15.3 million, is double what it was at the start of the recession in December 2007.

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Today’s payrolls report is entirely consistent with the kind of recovery where the employment situation is going to remain grim even if and when corporate profits start picking up. I like the fact that the unemployment rate for adult men, at 10.2%, is down 0.4 percentage points from its October peak. But total underemployment — the famous U-6 — is still extremely and stubbornly high at 17.3%, and the total number of unemployed persons, at 15.3 million, is double what it was at the start of the recession in December 2007.

Manufacturing employment is still falling, while temporary employment is rising; the workweek is still at an all-time low of 33.2 hours. Those workers are going to be asked to put in more hours per week before anybody starts hiring again in large quantities. Meanwhile, the people who hire in small quantities — small and medium-sized businesses — are still largely cut out from the credit markets, which means they have to hire people out of new revenues, instead of creating new revenues by hiring people.

The markets of course are concentrating on the headline payrolls figure, which went down rather than up in December, after going up rather than down in November. That’s a game which is interesting only to traders. The bigger picture, however, is important. And it shows a US workforce which is underemployed and looking at jobs which, when they do exist, are insecure and often temporary. Capital took its lumps in 2008 and the early months of 2009; it then recovered astonishingly quickly. It’s labor which is suffering the real hangover.

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