There needs to be a corrective to the tone of the reporting today of the April jobless numbers. "The labor market rebounded last month," reported the Los Angeles Times, in a tone typical of the mainstream media coverage.
Such is the austerity-era "new normal" that someone lying on the ground is considered "rebounding" when they woozily sit upright. Improvement, perhaps. Rebounding? Not when the economy, and millions of people who are financially lying on the ground still wounded by the Great Recession, still cannot stand on its own feet.
The real news today is this: The economy in April produced less than half of the jobs that are necessary in order to close the jobs gap created by the 2008 recession in the next two years. And the reason, as Robert Borosage points out in his monthly statement on the jobs picture, is "a self-inflicted wound. Government austerity – tax hikes and spending cuts – is suffocating the economy, just when it needs air."
Economic Policy Institute economist Heidi Shierholz has been tracking this, and warned two days before the jobs report was released that since the economy has been averaging about 175,000 new jobs a month since 2010, "there is a real danger that it’s beginning to be considered the “new normal," when in fact we can – and must – do better.
"As of March, I estimate that the U.S. economy needs 8.8 million jobs to get back to the labor market health that we had in December 2007," she wrote. To get those jobs in place by April 2015, the economy would have to be creating jobs at a rate of 367,000 jobs a month.
And even meeting that goal, she adds, is conservative, because "the labor market from 2002-2007—the recovery from the 2001 recession—saw the weakest job growth in a recovery in at least three generations. The labor market did not come close to regaining the health of the late 1990s before the Great Recession started."
"At the current growth rate," she writes, "the labor market will not be made whole again before the end of the decade."
That is the consequence of the federal government being prevented from undertaking the kinds of actions that would allow the job market to accelerate quickly and gain momentum. That is the role that something like the American Jobs Act that the Obama administration has proposed would play, if it were of the proper scale. That proposal would put extra federal funding into transportation projects, school refurbishing and construction, job training and work on other public assets. As the dollars from those jobs cycle through the economy, private sector job creation would follow, made sustainable by the improvements paid for with our federal tax dollars.
The obstruction from conservatives in Congress has placed such a policy move off-limits, and instead we have the federal budget sequester. In right-wing world, reducing federal spending and lowering federal deficits – at the fastest rate since the demobilization after World War II – was supposed to unleash the confidence of the private sector and enable the economy to roar back.
Instead, as Borosage writes today, "construction employment is down for the month, up 3.8 percent for the year and not near recovering 2007 levels. ... [M]anufacturing weekly aggregate payrolls were down for the month, and up a paltry 1.3 percent for the year, and still below 2007 levels. Government job cuts – down 89,000 for the year – are likely to get worse before they get better. Government employment is down 11,000 for the month. The basic measures of employment show an economy that is dead in the water in terms of employment over the course of the last year."
"The Federal Reserve keeps sending out life rafts – and the Congress keeps letting the air out of them," Borosage writes. "This folly cannot go on."
In the midst of Washington's tolerance of the economically unacceptable and the mainstream media's acquiescence in labeling as "rebounding" what is actually barely alive, the public needs to get this right – and in fact it is. Repeatedly in polls, they have said that the number one priority is getting Americans back to work in good-paying jobs, so we can rebuild the middle class that is the engine of the American economy. Congressional Republicans, and some Democrats, still have not gotten the message, so today tell your member of Congress it's time to repeal the sequester and take steps to rebuild the economy. If they can't change in the face of continuing evidence that austerity for all but the wealthiest is failing the American working class, then they risk being changed in next year's elections.