Outside View: Obamacare, slow growth drive shift to part-time workers

By PETER MORICI, UPI Outside View Commentator

COLLEGE PARK, Md., Dec. 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. Labor Department is expected Friday to report that its survey of businesses and government agencies indicates the U.S. economy added 180,000 jobs in November.

That monthly pace isn't nearly enough to bring unemployment down to acceptable levels and the economy continues to shift toward part-time and low-wage activities like retailing, hospitality and government subsidized healthcare activities.


Separately, the Labor Department survey of households indicates 399,000 additional Americans reported working part-time since January, while 153,000 fewer say they had full-time positions. In large measure, the shift to part-timers is driven by Obamacare mandates and a generally weak economy.

Importantly, growth in housing and auto sales has slowed. In both sectors, producers have emphasized higher-priced offerings with more features to boost profits. These strategies are now up against higher interest rates, nervousness about future stock market gains and a sense that Western economies are unable to break out of their funk.


Also, the financial and legal sectors continue to restructure, in part reflecting post-financial crisis expectations for permanently slower growth. Dodd-Frank regulations are compelling many small-town and regional banks to combine and cut jobs. Big banks face huge settlements in litigation with the U.S. Justice Department and federal regulatory agencies regarding mortgage-back securities and other issues surrounding the financial crisis and more recent abuses, such as in foreign exchange trading.

Government workers furloughed during the recent shutdown received back pay; however, a robust recovery in retail sales hasn't materialized. So far holiday sales haven't matched expectations for modest gains over 2012 and massive inventories of unsold apparel are building among major retailers.

The U.S. Commerce Department reported the economy grew at about 2.8 percent in the third quarter, up from 2.5 percent in the second but at this juncture in the recovery, the economy should be expanding at quicker pace.

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Also, much of the growth was in additions to inventories as demand remained soft and businesses across the economy remain cautious about adding full-time employees.

Particularly hard hit are older workers seeking employment, whose added benefits costs would drive up group insurance rates and the long-term unemployed, who carry steep training costs when hired. Many in these categories have quit looking for work altogether until conditions improve.


Recent graduates are taking unpaid internships and part-time jobs to meet minimal living expenses and putting off marriage and household formation. These dampen housing, furniture and appliance sales and employment and are creating a huge cohort of young Americans with diminished expectations and beaten down initiative.

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Were the percentage of adults working or looking for work today the same as when the recovery began, the unemployment rate would still be about 10 percent. Adding discouraged adults, who have quit looking for work altogether and part-timers who want full-time employment, the unemployment rate is 13.8 percent.

Even with more full-time positions, the pace of jobs creation is well short of the estimated 385,000 needed each month to lower unemployment to 6 percent over three years. That pace would require gross domestic product 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 4.9 percent annual pace and jobs creation was robust.

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Unnecessary oil imports and trade deficits on manufactured products from China and other Asian countries tax demand for U.S. goods and services, slow growth and directly subtract more than 4 million jobs.


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

The increased cost and slow pace of regulatory reviews curb investment spending. Robust assessments necessary to protect consumers and the environment must be at minimum cost and timely to add genuine value. Otherwise, excessive compliance costs send jobs to Asia and imposes great social costs.

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Absent smarter energy, trade and regulatory policies, slow growth and high unemployment are becoming permanent.


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


(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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