Jobs fail

By Felix Salmon
June 3, 2011
jobs report and the unemployment numbers for May are telling the same grim story.

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There’s no need to look beyond the headlines this month: both the jobs report and the unemployment numbers for May are telling the same grim story. A pathetic 54,000 new jobs were created last month — that’s significantly below the pace needed just to keep up with population growth — and unemployment went up, to a gruesome 9.1%.

Statistically speaking, both of these numbers are flat. But flat is, obviously, not remotely good enough in an economy where all stimulus — both fiscal and monetary — is coming to an end and where the single most important indicator of whether we’re successfully recovering from the Great Recession is in the employment figures.

If you do want to go beyond the headlines, things look if anything even worse: the average duration of unemployment, for instance, just hit another new record at 39.7 weeks; a full 44% of all unemployed people have now been jobless for more than six months. And on top of that, it turns out that the government’s statisticians were overly optimistic for the past couple of months: the payrolls numbers for March and April were revised downwards by 39,000 jobs.

We can’t even kid ourselves that these numbers are tornado-related: the Labor Department explicitly says that it has found “no clear impact of the disasters on the national employment and unemployment data for May.”

The only tiny possible chink of light here is that these numbers are so bad that they might persuade bickering politicians on Capitol Hill to stop playing stupid games with the debt ceiling and start concentrating on important matters. Oh, who am I kidding: we’re in election season now. Nothing is going to happen, in terms of remotely important legislation, until 2013, for risk that Obama might be able to take credit for it.

Which means that we’re back in the hands of Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve Board. As QE2 comes to an end, that’s not a comforting thought.

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