Where's My Recovery?

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JONATHAN COHN NOVEMBER 4, 2011

Where's My Recovery?

[Guest post by Matt O'Brien]

If it doesn't feel like a recovery to you, there's more good reason for that today. The October jobs report added to a long line of underwhelming employment numbers since the economic recovery ostensibly began in June of 2009. The headline number of 80,000 jobs added was, at best, barely enough to keep up with population growth. At this pace, unemployment will come down to less painful levels approximately never.

That said, the news wasn't all bad. Private sector job growth has been fairly resilient. Private payrolls added 104,000 jobs in October, but, as Gary Burtless, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, told me, "some of the best news comes from what happened to private employment in the past with the upward revisions." Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 102,000 more jobs were created during August and September than was previously estimated. That bump almost entirely explains the decline in the headline unemployment rate from 9.1 to 9.0 percent during October.

There was even—perhaps—some good news with the long-term unemployment picture. Both the median and mean duration of unemployment declined, and the share of the jobless who have been out of work 27 weeks or longer ticked down from 44.6 percent to 42.4 percent. Of course, it's not clear if these represent meaningful changes, or just statistical noise.

And for all the talk about "big government," public sector payrolls continued to shrink in October. Cuts at the state and local level added up to 24,000 lost jobs. This is unfortunate, Burtless told me, as "there's no reason why government payrolls should reverse since the federal government isn't likely to help state and local governments like it did in 2009." The so-called "conservative recovery" will keep rolling on.

But it's not much of a consolation. On the heels of fears about a possible double-dip recession, this latest jobs report seems, as Burtless told me, like "moderately good news"—a case of the soft bigotry of low expectations if there ever was one. The reality, as Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told me, is that this was just another in a "long series of job reports that are not good enough," as "job creation is still way below the 200,000-300,000 number that characterizes a robust recovery that brings down unemployment." A double-dip may not be in the cards, but, apparently, neither is much of a recovery.

Matt O'Brien is an intern at The New Republic.

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posted in: jonathan cohn, economy, gary burtless, matt o'brien

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