The number of American jobless remains dire.
The latest figures, released Friday, show employment increased by 175,000 in May — but the jobless rate nudged up from 7.5 percent to 7.6 percent. A typical response was the Financial Times, which slipped apparently unwitting ideological commentary into its otherwise bland report, saying the new jobs figure was “a number that will encourage the Fed to start slowing its $85 billion-a-month asset purchases.”
For some, every new indicator is a prompt to bring on more austerity.
A more appropriate response to these new figures is to say that 4.4 million long-term jobless, the 7.9 million with part-time work but looking for a full-time job, the 2.2 million who have taken themselves off the jobless rolls because they cannot find work, and 780,000 who have abandoned looking for work because they believe there is no job for them, is 15.3 million jobless too many.
At the height of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, 11.4 million Americans were out of work and the human misery that figure represented was universally thought intolerably high. In today’s Great Recession, at least as many Americans are now unemployed as during the slump at its deepest in 1933, when the jobless rate was 25 percent of the population — yet that miserable statistic no longer moves anyone to do anything about it.
For those who take solace in the belief that jobs are slowly but surely returning, there has been little improvement in overall employment in the last three years. The “payroll to population” rate, which records the true percentage of those working for more than 30 hours per week for an employer, remains steady at a stubborn 44 percent.