The big double-headed question: In what has been a generally upward employment trend, was March a fluke, a one-off, brought on by a warm winter or some other factor? Or was it the start of a new trend, potentially a pre-recessionary trend? Theories abound. Some persuasive, some sounding a whole lot like those deals where you send your scrap gold in an envelope to somebody whom the ads say will accurately weigh it and pay you accordingly.
Some analysts say the tepid growth in gross domestic product we've seen just isn't substantial enough to account for the improvement in employment for the December-February period. In other words, they imply the drop from a seasonally adjusted 240,000 net new jobs in February to half that in March should have been expected given the weakness in GDP growth That growth was just 1.8 percent for all of 2011, though considerably better in the final quarter of the year.
The economy overall seems to be in better shape than it was last year at this time when the Arab Spring (and rising oil prices) combined with the disruptions from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown caused a retreat in what had appeared at the time to be the beginning of a breakout from stubbornly slow growth. Leading indicators now show positive in nearly every category. Layoffs, at least of people eligible to collect unemployment benefits, have been running at a four-year low for two months. Consumer confidence is way up, the best in four years. But within those positives can be seen troublesome data.
For instance, consumer purchases—or in the jargon, personal consumption expenditures—are up. But that's not because wages are up. In the aggregate, wages did rise 2.1 percent in the past 12 months. But inflation right now is running at 2.9 percent. Which means consumers lost ground. After, again in the aggregate, paying down their debt over the past three years, consumers are going into debt again or spending out of their savings to buy stuff even as they slip behind in the earnings department. This is unsustainable behavior. The only thing that will make it sustainable is more jobs, which creates demand for more goods and services, which is met by creating more job openings.
But as the chart above shows, at the current rate of job growth—215,000 net jobs a month for the past four months—it will be 10 years from the time the recession began in December 2007 until that rate covers all the lost jobs and adds enough new ones to absorb increases in the working-age population and get us back to where we were before the Great Recession began. That population increase is now running at about 90,000 a month. As that chart also shows, the 2007 recession got started before employment recovered from the 2001 recession. A shortfall like that could easily happen again.
And that's hardlythe only dark shadow when it comes to jobs in this "recovery":
Analysis of government data by Moody’s Analytics shows that median household income, in 2011 dollars, peaked at $56,000 in 2000, and did not rebound to that level. When the Great Recession hit, income fell again. Though there has been some progress in the last two years, median income, now at $52,000, is about where it was in 1997.As Heidi Shierholz points out, the usual reasons apply. High unemployment holds wage growth down because employers are under no pressure to give raises to keep workers on the job. The fellow who must not be named had a term for this: the reserve army of the unemployed. That army keeps wages down and employed workers' noses to the grindstone because there are plenty of other noses to take their place. Desperate to collect a paycheck, even if it's less than before, even if it's less than enough to live on, workers accept what they get because of fear they could become part of that army. The consequences can be seen in the chart below (which would be worse if the figures were inflation adjusted:
Stopping that cramdown and getting to a new place will require, if you can stand the cliché, a new paradigm. That kind of talk sounds radical and it could be. But radical need not mean extremist. What we've been getting and are being told we need to get much more of— austerity, smashed unions, reduced wages, reduced pensions, reduced benefits, privatized everything—that's extremism. When will putting up with it reach our limit?
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2004:
The lid is off. As DemFromCT showed below, the news is tumbling out from multiple sources that the Presidential daily briefing proves that George W. Bush was warned on August 6th that al Qaida was planning an attack to take place within the United States before the end of 2001:
The sources said the presidential memo included a series of bullet items that brought Bush through a history of mostly uncorroborated intelligence that cited al-Qaida's interest in hijacking planes to win the release of Islamic extremists who had been arrested in 1998 and 1999 as well as the trips of suspected al-Qaida operatives, including some U.S. citizens, in and out of the United States. It suggested al-Qaida might have a support system in place on U.S. soil, the sources said.
The document also included FBI analytical judgments that some al-Qaida activities were consistent with preparation for airline hijackings or other types of attacks, some members of the commission looking into the Sept. 11 attacks said earlier this week.
The second-to-last bullet told the president that there were numerous—at least 70—terror-related investigations under way by the FBI in 2001 involving matters or people on U.S. soil, the sources said. [...]