The middling unemployment report should not cause people to neglect the massive sell-off in the stock market yesterday, which was predicated mainly on fears of a global return to no growth or even a double-dip recession. Those possibilities are increasing because of this move to austerity and the problems with containing sovereign debt crises in the Mediterranean countries. It’s not one-off events like “the tsunami” or even “Greece!” These are structural economic problems made worse by bad decision making.
Yes, officially the recession ended two years ago, and the economy did indeed pull out of a terrifying tailspin. But at no point has growth looked remotely adequate given the depth of the initial plunge. In particular, when employment falls as much as it did from 2007 to 2009, you need a lot of job growth to make up the lost ground. And that just hasn’t happened.
Consider one crucial measure, the ratio of employment to population. In June 2007, around 63 percent of adults were employed. In June 2009, the official end of the recession, that number was down to 59.4. As of June 2011, two years into the alleged recovery, the number was: 58.2.
These may sound like dry statistics, but they reflect a truly terrible reality. Not only are vast numbers of Americans unemployed or underemployed, for the first time since the Great Depression many American workers are facing the prospect of very-long-term — maybe permanent — unemployment. Among other things, the rise in long-term unemployment will reduce future government revenues, so we’re not even acting sensibly in purely fiscal terms. But, more important, it’s a human catastrophe.
The failure in the economy equals a failure to put those productive resources to use. Similarly, in Europe, the Eurozone has set up one policy that doesn’t currently work for all its member nations. And they refuse to deal with that elephant in the room.
In this country, we have a choice. We can move forward on a broadly popular manufacturing agenda, including many items that could be put in place without Congressional support. In particular, enforcing Buy American provisions on federal procurement would really help out the domestic manufacturing sector. The biggest boost would be in the monetary arena, by getting the Chinese to stop manipulating their currency and allowing it to rise against the dollar. That would be a bigger boost to exports than any corporate-written trade deal. If we’re not going to spend to invest in America, we have to reduce our trade deficit, because growth won’t come from anywhere else. And the jobs created in that sector are typically higher wage, and even unionized, which has a direct correlation on wages.
A couple years ago everyone liked to talk about green jobs and the new green energy economy. At the root, that’s a manufacturing-based economy. And since we all can’t flip burgers at McDonald’s, it’s worth moving that manufacturing agenda forward.