I will say, though, that the worst-case scenario for unemployment is fading fast as this chart from economist Robert Brusca shows. (Though one cautionary note: watch out for more state/local government layoffs).
Politics and policy from inside Washington
The unemployment rate in August jumped to 9.7 percent from 9.4 percent. The economy lost another 216,000 jobs. While the economy may be shifting into recovery mode, the labor market clearly still needs lots of work. The best-case scenario I can find (4 percent GDP growth next year) still would have the jobless rate at 8.5 percent or so a year from now. Also note that the labor force participation rate remained steady last month. So the blip up in unemployment was not caused by discouraged workers returning to the workforce. Also the broader U6 rate surged to 16.8 percent.
Economist Robert Brusca thinks he knows:
Right now the job losses in this cycle number 6.9mln, a drop of 5.9% from the peak. It has taken 19 months to get these losses in place. The metrics above suggest that the forecast of how long it will take to get them back should be about 19 months as well (we’ll use 20 months since jobs are still falling). And while that is a long time – nearly two years- it is not so long to restore 6.9mln jobs. If we get them back in 20 months it will take job gains averaging 345,000 per month. Right now that seems like an amazing number. Yet, that is what history says happens. So we’ll see.
And here is a table from Brusca showing how long it took to loose jobs in previous downturns and how fast the economy recovered them:
This from IHS Global Insight:
Although there are increasing signs that the economy has bottomed out, IHS Global Insight’s summer forecast shows that a job recovery is still a ways off for most of the nation’s metropolitan areas. Of the 363 metros in the country, just one—McAllen, Texas—will add more than 1,000 jobs this year. While most areas will begin increasing employment again in 2010, it will be tepid, with only 118 metros crossing the 1,000-job mark next year. Solid gains will not return for the majority of the country until 2011.
The slow recovery means it will be well into next decade before most areas regain the jobs lost during this recession. Not surprisingly, auto-ravaged Detroit will see the largest employment decline (more than 15%) among major metro areas, and will need years, if not decades, to recover. The housing-bust metros of the Sunbelt (Phoenix, Arizona; Riverside, California; Tampa, Florida) will all suffer steep drops and not return to pre-recession levels until 2013 or later. At the other end of the spectrum, Texas metros and Washington, DC, have avoided the brunt of this downturn and, thus, will be among the first to recover.
(Lightly microblogging this week from The Great White North)
Ed Yardeni makes the case that the job market may bounce back strongly, kind of (bold is mine):
Of course, the consensus view is that the recovery in the US labor market will be labored. There are a few contrarians who believe that there was a firing panic during the last four months of last year and the first half of this one. They expect a V-shaped snapback in headcounts as employers scramble to rehire. Debbie and I have been tracking the drop in payroll employment among 19 major industries during the recession. With only a couple of exceptions, they’ve all been slashing their staffs. It’s hard to imagine which industries might produce positive net hiring surprises. Auto Manufacturing? Construction? Banking? Retailing? Health Care? State and Local Governments? We doubt it. Maybe, we will all wind up working for the Federal Government. E Pluribus Unum.
Lots of temporary jobs and discouraged job seekers are the story. From David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff on the unemployment report:
1) The auto sector added 28,200 to the industry payroll in July, which was the highest tally in 11 years. To show you just how big that really is, it is a 69% annualized surge. Normally, the industry, which is in secular decline, posts job losses of between 20,000 and 30,000 consistently, so this alone represented roughly a 50,000 swing.
3) As we mentioned, there have been large fluctuations in the federal government payroll too. After hiring a slew of Census workers in the spring, there were 57,000 layoffs in May-June and then we saw in today’s report that 12,000 federal workers were “hired” in July. Again, mathematically, this contributed about 20,000 to today’s headline number. In other words, and we have no intent on raining on anyone’s parade, there was about 100,000 non-recurring payrolls in that top-line figure. It may be dangerous to extrapolate today’s report into a view that we are about to fully turn the corner on the job market front.
3) Yes, the income number was also firm; average weekly earnings popped 0.5%, but again, this reflected the bounce in the auto sector as well as the 10.7% increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. Again, this is a non-recurring item and does not at all reflect an improvement in underlying income fundamentals in the personal sector. We had a similar bounce in the summer of 2008 when the minimum wage was last boosted.
4) To be sure, the drop in the unemployment rate was a surprise, but it was all due to the slide in the labour force — the employment-to-population ratio gives amore accurate picture of the slack in the labour market and the hidden secret intoday’s report was that this metric slid to a 25-year low of 59.4% from 59.5% inJune and 61.0% at the turn of the year. Of those unemployed, 33.8% of themhave been unemployed now for over 27 weeks — a record amount (was at29.0% in June and was at 17.5% at the start of this recession).
There were no high-fives at the White House today because of this probable economic reality, as explained by the guys at RDQ Economics (the great John Ryding and Conrad DeQuandros):
The case that the recession ended in June continues to grow with this report. The rate of job loss has downshifted and the lengthening of the workweek in July resulted in flat hours worked in the private sector and an increase in manufacturing hours worked, which in turn points to a gain in industrial production in July. However, the decline in the unemployment rate was not a product of job creation, but a result of falling labor force participation. The labor force is unchanged over the last year and, as the economy improves, people are likely to seek jobs, resulting in an increase in the unemployment rate. We do not think that the unemployment rate has peaked—although the case that it can peak at around 10% (rather than 11% or higher) is now much stronger.
Rising U.S. unemployment, to borrow a phrase, has been a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of the Obama administration, sucking out its popularity and thus draining momentum from its legislative agenda. But now the White House received some good news from the jobs front. The unemployment in July unexpectedly fell to 9.4 percent from 9.5 percent in June. This breaks a string of 16-straight months where the unemployment rate had either risen or stayed flat, including every month of the Obama term. (Recall the rate was 7.6 percent in January.)
Now, the economy still lost a quarter of a million jobs. And had the same number of people been looking for work in July as June, the rate would have risen. Plus, the broader unemployment rate is still over 16 percent. But the news headlines will show the traditional jobless rate easing, making the approach toward double digits a bit slower if also more unlikely. Here are the political impacts of a possible economic turning point:
1) A third positive data point for Obamanomics. The stock market has been up sharply, the decline in GDP has slowed sharply and now Team Obama can point to a dip in the jobless rate. (Plus cash for clunkers seems pretty popular.) When the market was down, GDP collapsing and the unemployment rate soaring, it was tough for the White House to counter GOP claims that its stimulus plan was anything but a miserable failure. Now Republicans have to make a tougher argument, that a) a “real” recovery plan would be working faster rather than this sugar high from government spending, and b) it’s really the natural strength of the economy (with some help from monetary policy) taking over rather than anything the Democrats have done. More of a muddle than “Obamanomics has done nothing!”
2) Makes the economy a bit less of a negative for healthcare and climate change legislation. The bad economy — and rising unemployment in particular — hurt the Obamacrat agenda in several ways. First, with the economy worsening, it meant Obama had yet to fix the economy. And that was the main thing he was elected to do. Until that is done, healthcare and climate change look like distractions from Job One. Second, a weak economy made it seem to voters like it wasn’t a good time to pass legislation that would add taxes and costs to the economy. Third, the bad economy made Obama less popular and thus his agenda less popular. To the extent that Obama looks like he is capably managing an actual recovery, it will also help momentum on these other issues. And certainly Democrats don’t want to see unemployment hit 10 percent right when healthcare crunch-time hits in the autumn.
3) There is a risk Obama and the Democrats overplay their hand. Look, the unemployment rate is still double what Americans have become used to during the past generation. Plus, the broader unemployment rate is at scary levels, particularly in states like Michigan and California. And this dip could be followed by a reversal. After the 1990-91 recession ended, the unemployment rate took a similar dip, from 6.8 percent to 6.7 percent. But then it started rising again for the next year and half, eventually hitting 7.8 percent. This was due to a combination of slow economic growth and discouraged workers looking for jobs again (which meant the Labor Department started tracking them again). A lengthy jobless recovery may well be in the offing. Dems would be wise to avoid premature celebration. Here is how IHS Global Insight puts it: “The unemployment rate fell, but it is hard to believe that it has peaked already. … We will need to see sustained employment gains before concluding that unemployment has peaked, and that probably won’t be until the first half of 2010 with unemployment above 10 percent.” This is why the White House is taking a cautious stance today.
4) Voter anxieties are likely to remain high even if the worst is over. President Bush, the first one, lost the 1992 presidential election to Bill Clinton because of the economy and the lingering impact of the 1990-91 recession. Two years later, though, it was the Democrats’ turn to feel the brunt of widespread economic anxiety as the Republicans captured both the House and the Senate. Even though the economy had been growing for 14 straight quarters by then and the unemployment rate was down to 5.8 percent from a high of 7.8 percent in 1992, 72 percent of Americans still thought the economy was only “fair” or “poor,” and 66 percent thought the nation was headed in the wrong direction. That’s right—3½ years after the 1990-91 recession ended, the economy was still weighing negatively on voters. Lesson: It takes a long time after a bad downturn for people to feel safe and confident.
5) The GOP argument just got tougher. The Republicans would be crazy to pull back from attacking Obama’s management of the economy, given high joblessness and massive deficits. But they need to prepare themselves for two things. First, there could be a big GDP pop in the near future. The typical first quarter after a recession shows 5 percent GDP growth or better. And if employers overestimated the severity of the downturn and cut too many jobs, the same upside surprise could happen with employment. At that point, it will seem like Obamanomics might be working, and GOPers better have an answer. Still, if we get a Reagan style “v-shape” recovery and boom, Republicans are in deep trouble, though concerns about the deficit may give a bit of cover. More likely: a good quarter or two followed by weak growth and continued high unemployment. The Long Recession Scenario, or 1990s Japan-lite. Why? Still lots of economic uncertainty after financial meltdown, impact of huge deficits on interest rates, weak consumers, a dead housing market, and the high-tax, high-regulation Obama agenda among others.
Bottom line: The unemployment report provides a short-term boost to Obama’s popularity and agenda, but does not change the likely scenario that on Election Day 2010 (maybe even 2012), voters will not be thrilled about the economy. And to the extent the economy improves, will voters view it as a real turnaround or one manufactured by unsustainable government spending, as with cash for clunkers? A foundation of rock or sand?
The bad news arrives. Here is the latest from the Labor Department on the July unemployment rate and the number of jobs lost (bold is mine):
1. Nonfarm payroll employment continued to decline in July (-247,000), and the unemployment rate was little changed at 9.4 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The average monthly job loss for May through July (-331,000) was about half the average decline for November through April (-645,000).
2. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) rose by 584,000 over the month to 5.0 million. In July, 1 in 3 unemployed persons were jobless for 27 weeks or more.
3. The civilian labor force participation rate declined by 0.2 percentage point in July to 65.5 percent.
4. Among the marginally attached, there were 796,000 discouraged workers in July, up by 335,000 over the past 12 months. Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.
5. Manufacturing employment fell by 52,000 in July and has declined by 2.0 million since the recession began.
6. In July, retail trade employment declined by 44,000. Job losses in the industry had averaged 27,000 per month over the prior 3 months.
7. Employment in professional and business services continued to trend down in July (-38,000); the industry has shed 1.5 million jobs since the start of the recession. … While temporary help has lost 844,000 jobs since the recession began, the declines have lessened substantially over the past 3 months.
8. Transportation and warehousing lost 22,000 jobs in July.
9. Financial activities employment continued to trend down in July (-13,000). The average monthly decline for this industry was 23,000 over the past 3 months compared with 46,000 per month from November through April. Since the start of the recession, the financial activities industry has lost 501,000 jobs.
10. Health care employment increased by 20,000 in July, about in line with the average monthly gain for the first half of this year but down from an average monthly increase of 30,000 during 2008.
11. In July, the average workweek of production and nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls edged up by 0.1 hour to 33.1 hours.