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Outside View: Part-time positions dominate U.S. jobs picture

By PETER MORICI, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Sept. 5, 2013 at 12:02 AM
COLLEGE PARK, Md., Sept. 5 (UPI) -- Forecasters expect the U.S. Labor Department to report Friday that the U.S. economy added 175,000 jobs in August and the unemployment rate remained steady at 7.4 percent.

Although in line with the pace of recent months, recent jobs gains have been heavily weighted toward part-time positions.

Since January, 936,000 additional Americans report working part-time, while only 27,000 more say they have obtained full-time positions. The shift to part-time workers, partially a reaction to Obamacare health insurance mandates, puts downward pressure on wages and benefits in low-paying industries, such as retailing and restaurants, and widens income inequality.

Expectations of permanently slower growth are hardening disturbing changes in the structure of the labor market and social conditions. These days, new college graduates often work at unpaid internships while taking part-time jobs at places like Starbucks to meet minimal living expenses. And they are putting off marriage and childbearing, which also drags on consumer spending and growth.

Adding in discouraged adults, who have quit looking for work altogether, and part-timers who want full-time employment, the unemployment rate becomes 14.0 percent.

In the second quarter, gross domestic product growth was 2.5 percent, owing to an increase in business inventories, stronger exports and weaker imports.

The boost from stronger U.S. sales abroad and fewer imports aren't expected to continue because of China's resurgent manufacturing and Japan's policy of targeting the U.S. auto industry and other manufacturers with an artificially cheap yen.

Inventories can't grow forever and in the end consumers and business investment must pick up the slack.

Despite greater optimism as expressed by consumers and small businesses in sentiment surveys, initial readings for third quarter consumer spending are quite weak, and growth in industrial production and manufacturing, as tracked by the Federal Reserve, have slowed. Consequently, economic growth may be expected to slide back to about 2 percent in the second half of the year.

The protracted delay in determining appropriate U.S. military action in Syria has added to uncertainty and pushed up oil and gasoline prices. These will drag on consumer spending, business investment and jobs creation in the third quarter.

Even with more full-time positions, the pace of jobs creation is well short of what is needed. About 360,000 jobs would lower unemployment to 6 percent over three years but that would require GDP growth in the range of 4-5 percent.

Stronger growth is possible. Four years into the Reagan recovery, after a deeper recession than President Barack Obama inherited, GDP was advancing at a 5.1 percent annual pace, and jobs creation was quite robust.

Factors contributing to the slow pace of recovery include the remaining large trade deficits on oil and manufactured products from China and elsewhere in Asia. Together, these are directly subtracting 4 million full-time jobs.

Absent U.S. policies to develop more oil offshore and in Alaska and effectively confront Asian governments about their purposefully undervalued currencies and protectionism the trade deficit will continue to tax growth and steal U.S. jobs.

Dodd-Frank regulations make mortgages, refinancing and home improvement loans much more difficult to obtain. Consequently, the recovery in housing construction, though welcomed, remains lackluster as compared to past recoveries. In turn, this slows expansion in building materials, major appliances, furniture and other durable goods.

The high cost and slow pace of regulatory reviews are a constant complaint among businesses and curb investment spending and Washington shows no signs of listening.

Regulations to protect the environment and accomplish other goals should be subject to the same efficacy standards the market applies to commercial technologies -- regulatory assessments and enforcement are needed but must be delivered cost effectively and quickly to add genuine value.

Many businesses with overseas opportunities remain tentative about adding capacity and hiring workers in the United States. Instead, they look to Asia where government policies are more accommodating and prospects for growth remain stronger.

Without better trade, energy and regulatory policies, the pace of jobs creation in the United States won't pick up.

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(Peter Morici is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and a widely published columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @pmorici1 )

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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