Looking back on 2014, many have decided to single out a handful of indicators and declare that the economy is in great shape. With the economy growing at five percent and unemployment at the lowest level in seven years, the past year apparently came up roses.
This surely must come as news to the 2.7 million people who are still facing long term unemployment and the 6.7 million who have been forced to take part-time work because the full-time jobs are still just simply not there. For them, the economy has been anything but healthy. Their daily lives highlight the underlying problems still facing the economy.
Although unemployment has dropped, so has the number of people looking for work. Feeling overwhelmed and unable to find a job, many have left the workforce completely. This has decimated the labor force participation rate, bringing it to its lowest level since the Carter administration. Some of this is attributable to an aging workforce, but not as much as optimists would like to believe. Even the White House admits only about a third of the decline in the labor force is attributable to increased retirements. The specific origins of most of the decline remains ambiguous, but it is rooted in current economic conditions and partly comes from people growing disillusioned with their prospects and opting out.
Another important—but all too often ignored—indicator of economic health is who is actually able to find work. For white Americans with a four-year college degree, the job market is largely fine. However, black unemployment remains over double that of whites, a trend that has persisted for decades and went unchanged last year. The problem is especially pronounced among teenagers, an inequality that automatically puts minority youth at a long-term disadvantage from their white peers.
Of the jobs that were created last year, a great deal of them were part-time. Indeed, “U-6 unemployment,” which counts people who have looked for work at any time within the past year or are involuntarily underemployed remains north of 11 percent. Those who take part-time work even though they are seeking full-time employment are doing what is necessary to provide for their families in difficult times. However, we should not pat ourselves on the back and celebrate an economy that forces breadwinners into having to take part-time jobs, oftentimes more than one in order to provide, disrupting their families and putting an additional strain on the backs of people hardest hit in post-Great Recession America. Instead, we should be focused on growing the economy and creating more full-time jobs so that more people have access to the American Dream.
Overall, an economy that is growing at five percent annually is certainly good news. Five full years after the Great Recession was officially declared over, the economy has finally started to grow rather than stammer along. This is a glimpse of what an actual recovery might look like—and something we should have seen half a decade ago.
In order to continue to see growth and encourage businesses to hire full-time and provide the type of work that makes the American Dream achievable for all, politicians need to free the economy from the current restraints holding it back. With businesses facing countless unnecessary hurdles—one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, the expensive and confusing train wreck that is Obamacare, and unnecessary and excessive regulations at every turn—it’s no wonder millions of Americans are still struggling. The government has the economy in a bureaucratic chokehold. We should be calling for the victim’s release, not applauding because it managed to let out a faint breath.