Economic Outlook: The fine print on jobs

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  May 4, 2012 at 11:08 AM
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It's hard to ignore jobs data.

It's also hard to ignore the gross domestic product, which was pegged in the first of three estimates at 2.2 percent growth in the first quarter.

That GDP points directly, for those with calculators, to an additional 115,00 jobs added to the economy in April, which the Labor Department revealed Friday morning was the case.

Economists say it takes about 3 percent GDP growth to break even with the unemployment rate, given the number of people per month who are added to the workforce.

So, when the unemployment rate drops, as it did in April, falling from 8.2 percent to 8.1 percent, the United States should be seen as a model economy with policymakers who know how to turn a devastating recession around as quickly as possible. After all, in Europe this week, unemployment was at a record 10.9 percent in the eurozone and 10.2 percent in the European Union.

Officials in the Obama administration, remarkably, perhaps heroically, took up battle stations the moment they came into power and used the Troubled Asset Relief Program a Hail Mary from the previous administration -- to rescue the nation's banks.

Ironically, the administration sent a mixed message when it did so.

President Obama took the populist path, railing against "fat-cat bankers," while Treasury Timothy Geithner was put to the task of selling the necessity of saving the nation's banks.

Save the banks first, or there would be no economy left to save later. That was part of the message.

But the administration hasn't gotten very far with the second step. Stimulus packages were enough to put the downturn in a stall. They arrested the labor market free-fall, but didn't get much farther than that.

Consumer spending, meanwhile, rose from meager to paltry.

But there has been little progress made, if any, that would be noticed by the 12.5 million people without jobs. As The New York Times pointed out Thursday, the United States is now more productive than it was before the recession, but that productivity level has been accomplished with 5 million fewer workers.

Essentially, the headlines will read: "Unemployment rate falls to 8.1 percent," but the fine print tells a different story.

It says 40 percent of the unemployed have not had a job for at least a year.

The fine print also says about 80 percent of the drop in the unemployment rate, by some estimates, has been accomplished by people giving up on finding a job.

The unemployment rate dropped in April, but congratulations are not in order.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain lost 2.01 percent and the DAX 30 in Germany shed 1.99 percent. The CAC 40 in France dropped 2.07 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 gave up 1.92 percent.

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