Jobs come back, along with unemployment

By Felix Salmon
May 7, 2010
payrolls report this morning was good: it feels churlish to throw cold water on the news that 290,000 more people are working now than a month ago.


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The payrolls report this morning was good: it feels churlish to throw cold water on the news that 290,000 more people are working now than a month ago.

But. Keep an eye on those unemployment rates. The headline figure is back up at 9.9%, the highest it’s been this year. The U-6 underemployment rate is a gruesome 17.1%. And U-4, which is total unemployed plus discouraged workers, has hit a new high of 10.6%.

If we’re going to have sustained GDP growth, it’s going to have to come from those figures falling back to acceptable levels: without that happening, we can have a little bit of a rebound, but none of the long-term consumer demand that’s necessary. And yet they’re all going the wrong way: up, rather than down. That’s devastating for the economy, and not only because rising unemployment is a sure-fire way to increase mortgage delinquencies, with all the ugly financial and fiscal consequences that entails.

Underneath it all, there’s a glimmer of a silver lining to the unemployment figures: they come from an increase in the labor force, which means that people are actually bothering to look for work again. Remember though that 6.7 million people have now been unemployed for more than six months — 46% of the total unemployment figure. We’ll literally never find jobs for all of them: many will never be employed again. Which is the real underlying tragedy of this recession, and of the jobless recovery.

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