By Walter Russell Mead
The jobs numbers are out for March, and they’re a doozy: only 88,000 new jobs were added, with unemployment inching down to 7.6 percent. That may not sound so bad until you look at the context. This figure is significantly down from the 268,000 jobs added in February, and is far more dire than the 200,000 jobs economists expected. Unemployment was down—barely—and was due to almost half a million people leaving the workforce.
The New York Times’ story puts the figures against a grim backdrop:
“It’s important to look at the types of jobs that are being created because those jobs will directly affect the fortunes and challenges of households and neighborhoods as well as the course of the recovery,” said Sarah Bloom Raskin, a member of the Federal Reserve Board, in a recent speech. [...]
Ms. Raskin also expressed concern about temporary-help jobs, which account for a growing share of total employment.
Usually an increase in temp hiring is considered a good thing, at least at the start of a recovery, since it indicates that employers are thinking about taking on permanent workers. So far, though, employers seem to be sticking with those temporary contracts.
“Temporary help is rapidly approaching a new record,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, who noted that there was also a rapid increase in temp hiring during the boom years of the ‘90s. “That of course means more flexibility for employers, and less job security for workers.”
Perhaps most distressingly, millions of workers who want full-time work still can find only part-time work, and their missing work hours do not count toward the official unemployment rate.
Some of these trends mentioned in the Times article look like they might be influenced by Obamacare: companies don’t want to add full time job slots when they incur health care liabilities. It appears that, despite all the comforting words from the administration that the “smart tax hikes” and brilliant Obamacare plans are creating the most fabulous business environment since the invention of fire, actual businessmen are still hesitant to invest actual money in the American economy.
We are, however, thrilled that we don’t have a Republican in the White House, because if we did, the press would be incessantly yammering about this bad news until we were all sick of it. As it is, they are likely to say as little as possible about what appears to be a massive failure of economic policy and go back to covering the really important issues, like gay marriage.
If a Republican president got very busy on social issues at a time of economic stagnation and disappointment, there would be earnest hand-wringing of the “What’s Wrong with Kansas” variety about how American rubes were being diverted from their true economic interests by the skillful manipulation of emotionally charged social issues and identity politics. This would be taken as a sign of the cynicism of the ruling party and the clueless credulity of the hypnotized voters.
Fortunately, we aren’t going to have to listen to any of that depressing rhetoric now. Social issues are good and important; economic questions like jobs and incomes and growth are a distraction from the real business of the people.