Is the recession over yet?

“Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” — Will Rogers

Statisticians say the recession ended mid-2009, four and a half years ago. But what do you think? Does it feel like the recession ended or does it feel like we are still in a recession? In a recent poll, 74% said we are still in a recession.

It’s no wonder most people feel that the recession never ended. Employment is miserable. GDP growth is pathetic. Median family income is down for four straight years. Almost 50 million Americans live below the federal poverty line. A record 47 million people are on food stamps. One pundit declared that “More people in the United States are poor, unemployed, underemployed, looking for work, disgusted and quit looking for work, on food stamps, and on disability than anytime in our history.”

But the December jobs report says that unemployment dropped from 7.0% down to 6.7%. Doesn’t that show that the economy is improving? Well, no. Almost all of the reaction, other than from hopelessly partisan hacks, says that the report is bad news. E.g. CNN described it as “weakest job growth in years”, USAToday referred to it as “unexpectedly weak jobs report”. Many reported that there were “only” or “just” 74,000 new jobs, the worst in almost a year. (UPDATE: The January Jobs Report is better but “is another disappointing jobs report”. “Job growth remains weak,” “disappoints again”.)

Not so well known is that jobs have to increase by about 150,000 every month just to keep up with the increase in population. Since 2009, when the recession supposedly ended, the civilian population age 16 and above has grown from 236 million to 246 million. Meanwhile, the number who were employed grew from 140 million to 144 million. In other words, of the 10 million who entered the working age population, only 4 million found a job.

Compare the current “recovery” with two others. From 1983 to 1987, population grew by almost 9 million; jobs by almost 12 million. From 1993 to 1997, population grew by a bit over 8 million, jobs a bit over 9 million. Those were strong recoveries – employment grew even faster than population. In the eleven recoveries since they started collecting statistics in 1948, the current recovery is by far the weakest and slowest.

US News magazine has a fascinating chart from the Federal Reserve of St. Louis. It shows both the unemployment rate and the EMployment rate from 1948 through 2013. They show the data for employment and unemployment separately because the two are calculated differently. But for more than 60 years, covering 10 recessions, employment and unemployment are mirror images of each other. When employment goes up, unemployment goes down and vice versa.

This time is different. For the first time in the history of these employment statistics, employment is NOT moving up. By the government calculations, unemployment has improved but employment as a percentage of the population has held steady for four years at a level much worse than we have seen for 30 years.

employment to population

But how can unemployment go down without employment going up? If you stop being unemployed doesn’t that mean you are employed? Well, no. Many people are not counted as either employed or unemployed; they are counted as “Not in labor force”. If you have been unemployed for so long that you give up looking, then you stop being counted as unemployed, and are instead counted as no longer in the labor force.

A record high 92 million people are counted as no longer in the labor force, an increase of 10 million in just 4 years. Some people will say that it is because baby boomers are retiring. That’s a nice theory but the numbers say otherwise. Those aged 55 and above have actually seen their employment numbers grow by 6 million people. It is the younger workers from 16-54 who have lost jobs – 8 million jobs.

In the four years of the current “recovery” the number of Millennials working full-time has decreased every year. The number living at home with their parents has grown every year. This is a human tragedy.

On top of all the ongoing poor employment numbers, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated that ObamaCare will cost 2.3 million jobs by 2021. Apologists quickly countered that it would not be because people lost their jobs; rather it would be because people decided not to work. “When Americans quit looking for work because they conclude not working beats working, America faces a significant problem” says a white paper from Express Employment Professionals.

Some say that were are in a “New normal”. Many of us – I hope most of us – do not believe in a “fate that will fall on us no matter what we do.” For most of its existence, the United States has been the freest, most prosperous nation on earth. It is long established that freedom and prosperity go hand in hand; more freedom produces greater prosperity.

Sadly, the U.S. has moved away from freedom to a more and more intrusive government. The Index of Economic Freedom reported just last month that “The U.S. is the only country to have recorded a loss of economic freedom each of the past seven years.” Hmm, could that explain the awful employment?

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