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Still Looking for Some Jobs

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Today I had a liberal – strike that, "progressive" – friend try to explain how great the Obama economy was doing.  He offered as evidence "all the jobs that are being created, and the positive trend that has been established."


Allowing that I might have missed something, I went to the Labor Department's latest report.  I reviewed key indicators beginning in June 2009, the month the economic recovery supposedly began, through the most recent report for November 2012. 

Unsurprisingly, the data showed my progressive friend's spin didn't hold up. See the chart below. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Labor Force Changes: June 2009 to November 2012
(in thousands)
June, 2009 Nov, 2012 Difference
Population Level                 233,627                    244,174         10,547
Civiliam Labor Force Level                 154,730                    155,291               561
Employment Level                 140,003                    143,262           3,259
Unemployment Level                   14,727                      12,029         (2,698)
Not in Labor Force                   80,925                      88,883           7,958
Not in Labor Force, Want Job Now                     5,913                         6,817               904

The above data merits some further discussion.  In the 41 month period since the beginning of the recovery the total age eligible population has increased by 10.5 million people.  In a normal economy, at least 66% of them – nearly 7 million – would have entered the workforce, or an average of 170,000 per month.

More than three years into a typical recovery period, about 94% of the workforce would be employed.   Which means that 6.6 million of those 7 million eligible folks over the last 41 months should have jobs today.

That's an important number.  It reflects the total number of new jobs that would have been necessary just to keep pace with population growth over the last 41 months.  That wouldn't even begin to replace the additional 8 million jobs lost during the recession beginning in November 2007.

But, as the chart shows, Obama's economic recovery hasn't even come close to generating enough jobs to keep pace with the population increase, much less replace all the jobs lost during the economic downturn.  

As the data indicates in the same 41 month period, there is a net difference of only 3.2 million new jobs.  To be fair, the economy shed another 1.6 million jobs between June and October, 2009.  However, even since that low point, the Employment Level (total jobs) has increased by 4.8 million.  The President likes to brag about that number without ever mentioning that it is still far short of the jobs needed just to keep pace with population increases. 


Unemployment as calculated by the Labor Department has declined nearly 2.7 million.  The White House and the supporting mainstream media are quick to point out that the unemployment rate has declined to 7.7%. 

But, the real story in the data is the nearly 9 million additional people that can't find work or have given up even trying.  Those 9 million aren't included in the BLS unemployment rate calculation formula, but result is the smallest percentage of the total population participating in the work force in more than 30 years, 63.6%.   The unemployment rate would be 11.1% if a more normal 66% labor force participation rate actually existed. 

Again, for proper context, we're supposed to be 3½ years into a recovery.  Yet, compared to when the recovery supposedly began nearly 8 million more people are "not in the labor force, " including 900,000 who "want a job now" but can't find one, according to the BLS data.

Even looking at the recent trend of the 2012 data in isolation – the third full year of Obama's non-recovery recovery – job growth has averaged an anemic 151,000 per month, just barely keeping pace with population growth for this year.

Barack Obama won re-election, but that doesn't change the numbers.  It was a rotten economy before Nov. 6, and it still is. 

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