Monday, July 27, 2009

The New Joblessness

"The Federal Reserve now expects unemployment to surpass 10 percent (the postwar high was 10.8 percent in 1982). By almost every other measure, ours is already the worst job environment since the Great Depression. The economy has shed 6.5 million jobs — nearly 5 percent of the total, far outstripping the 3 percent that were lost in the early ’80s. Economists fear that even when the economy turns around, the job market will be stagnant. Keith Hall, the commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sums it up as “an ugly picture out there.”

Not only are firms laying off redundant workers, but they seem to be cutting into the bone. Hall says the absence of hoarding means that firms do not expect business to pick up soon. This is supported by other evidence, like a doubling in the number of involuntary part-time workers (there are nine million of them) and the shrinking workweek, now 33 hours — the shortest ever recorded. Presumably, before companies start to rehire laid-off workers, they will ask their current employees to work more.

It’s hard to give a definitive explanation for this trend, but among the reasons are a decline in innovation in the aftermath of the tech boom, leading to fewer new businesses, and the aging of the population. More people have dropped out of the work force, and a smaller work force tends to dampen job totals. The percentage of adults who are working has fallen from 64 at the end of the Clinton era to only 59.5 now."


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