A Third Jobs Relapse Underway?

by Jack Rasmus

Jack Rasmus

For the third time in as many years, jobs growth over this past winter 2012 once again shows signs of a major ‘relapse’ this spring and summer. The Labor Department’s employment numbers released April 6, 2012 indicate a mere 120,000 new jobs were created in March, a number not even sufficient to absorb new entrants into the labor force for the month. This follows reports of more than 200,000 jobs created monthly since last December 2011.

If this latest, third major reversal in jobs creation were a one time occurrence, it could be attributed perhaps to real economic conditions simply shifting. But three years in a row every spring? That repetition means there is likely something more fundamental at work.

A year ago, during winter-spring 2010-11, this writer forewarned that the jobs recovery that was being reported during the winter 2010-11 would not be sustainable, and that job creation would collapse in the summer of 2011. And it did. (see this writer’s published articles: ‘The Truth Behind the December (2010) Jobless Numbers’, ‘Behind the February (2010) Jobs Numbers’, ‘March Jobs Numbers—A Contrarian View’, ‘Why March (2011) Jobs Gains Will Collapse This Summer’, and ‘The Predicted Job Collapse Now in Progress’, all of which are available on this writer’s blog, jackrasmus.com).

More recently over this most recent winter 2011-12, this writer once again warned that the real, raw jobs data reported by the Labor Department was showing a massive mismatch compared to the ‘statistically adjusted’ jobs data reported by the Department. While it is reasonable to expect some degree of divergence between the raw, ‘statistically unadjusted’ jobs data vs. the ‘statistically adjusted’ data—the latter of which are smoothed out based on assumptions of seasonality, new businesses formed, and other manipulations of the raw, actual jobs data—nevertheless the mismatch between the actual jobs numbers and the statistically adjusted numbers this past winter revealed a massive, extraordinary gap between the two. (see this writer’s more recent published pieces, ‘Those Peculiar January (2012) Jobs Numbers’ and ‘The US Jobs Crisis—The Bigger Picture’, also available at jackrasmus.com).

For example, this past winter, the ‘gap’ between the decline in raw, actual (statistically unadjusted) jobs and the statistically adjusted jobs numbers between November-December 2011 showed a ‘net swing’, or difference between adjusted and unadjusted, of about 430,000 jobs. That was not unreasonable. But over the period December 2011-January 2012, the U.S. labor department reported a statistically adjusted gain of 243,000 jobs in January 2012, whereas the raw actual jobs numbers showed an actual decline of –2.7 million jobs. That ‘net swing’ of nearly 3 million jobs, more than seven times greater than of the preceding November-December period, is unprecedented. That kind of massive gap between declining actual job creation and statistically adjusted, reported job increases requires an explanation. However, the media seemed simply to accept the 243,000 jobs created in January without question.

A corroborating further example is what also happened to the U-6 unemployment rate over this past winter 2011-12: The November to December 2011 U-6 jobless rate showed a ‘gap’ between raw data and adjusted data of only 112,000 jobs. That was reasonable. But the December-January the gap ballooned to a ‘gap’ or net swing of more than a million jobs difference between the actual vs. statistically adjusted jobless numbers. That’s a tenfold difference.

Something is going on, in other words, with the statistical adjustment methodology employed by the labor department to estimate jobs in the winter months and the first quarter of each year. The jobs creation numbers reported by the labor department between each winter the past three years are simply grossly overstated. That overstated thereafter appears to end come late spring-summer and the jobs numbers, even the statistically adjusted numbers, in turn collapse. This has happened now three years in a row. That means the gains of the past winter will likely again, for a third, time fade during the summer and third quarter of this year.

In this writer’s earlier articles, 2010-11, identifying this trend, it was suggested that at least two of the labor department’s statistical operations—the winter seasonality adjustments and the department’s additional, and grossly inaccurate, assumptions and methodology for estimating ‘new business formation’ (that raise the estimate of jobs created from new business formation)—are seriously deficient. Those methods and assumptions, in other words, may be based on conditions that pre-dated the current unique and qualitatively different and more severe ‘Epic’ recession conditions. These out of date methodologies may well be resulting in gross overestimation of adjusted job creation at certain times of the year (fourth and first quarters) and perhaps even underestimation at other times (second and third quarters). If so, what appears as volatility—gains in the winter and losses of jobs in the summer—may obscure what is essentially stagnant job growth throughout the year during the past three years.

It is also possible that the volatility in job creation may not be all statistical adjustments. It may be due as well to business cautiously hiring at the start of their fiscal years and then not continuing to hire further as the year progresses as it becomes clear, once again each year, that consumers do not have the income to sustain their consumption. Household real income growth for the ‘bottom 80%’ one hundred million or so households has declined steadily since 2009, and has been negatively impacted every spring by speculation-driven oil price hikes every spring the past three years. So too has spending by the wealthiest 10% households, whose buying is largely driven by the stock market. Stocks the last three years have surged in the Fall to Spring period, driven by free money pumped into the economy as a result of the Federal Reserve’s ‘Quantitative Easing’ programs. Those programs for three years ‘run out’ by the spring, the stock market stalls, and the wealthiest households pull back their spending as well. Like jobs, general economic recovery has also entered a ‘relapse’ in the summer-third quarter in 2010 and 2011. Thus both the economy and jobs are locked in a ‘stop-go’ scenario since 2009.

What all that also means is—notwithstanding a winter economic and jobs resurgence the past three years—there really isn’t, nor has there been, any sustainable job creation of any consequence for the past three years. Jobs aren’t declining in great numbers. Nor are they growing. We are ‘bouncing along the bottom’—both in terms of jobs and the economic recovery in general.

The three economic recovery programs of the Obama administration, introduced in early 2009, late 2010, and now in 2011-12, have not fundamentally resolved the jobs crisis. Nor have they been able to get the economy on a sustained growth path.

This fundamental stagnation in the jobs markets, and the general economy’s trajectory of short shallow recoveries followed by brief ‘relapses’, is all the more amazing given that more than $1.5 trillion in tax cuts introduced by the Obama administration over the course of its three economic recovery programs since 2009. More than another $1.5 trillion in stimulus has occurred in the form of spending (mostly on subsidies to the states, unemployed, and long term infrastructure projects that haven’t gotten off the ground) since 2009. In addition, more than $9 trillion pumped into the banks and stock and bond markets by the Federal Reserve.

This more than $12 trillion in total fiscal-monetary stimulus has resulted in large corporations accumulating a reported ‘cash hoard’ of more than $2.5 trillion. They have committed little of that to investment and job creation in the US. What was once termed ‘trickle down’ has become a ‘drip-drip’ investment-job creation process. More and more subsidies to corporate America (banks and non-banks) is producing less and less results in terms of US-based investment and job creation. Some job creation is occurring, but when that minimal job creation is contrasted to the massive, $12 trillion of stimulus of the past three years, it becomes clear that economic recovery programs, and related fiscal-monetary policies, are today essentially broken.

To the extent jobs are being created at all, it is heavily skewed toward lower paid temp, part time, and ‘two tier’ wage jobs. Both Obama and Corporations are making a big deal about jobs being brought back to the U.S. by the big Multinational Corporations, like General Electric and General Motors. But the relatively small flow of such jobs are at half pay and often with no benefits. Check out GE’s vaunted job creation at its Kentucky plant. And GM’s alleged new jobs in Detroit. New hires at both are paid $14 an hour, about half that of other workers, with less if any equivalent benefits.

And how many jobs in recent years have really been created in Manufacturing in general, and in Autos in particular? When the recession started in December 2007, there were 13.9 million jobs in manufacturing in the U.S, and 978,000 in autos, according to the Labor Department’s B-1 Table of Employment. In July 2009, at the official end of the recession, there were 11.9 million manufacturing jobs and 640,000 auto jobs. This past March 1, more than four years after the start of the recession and approaching three years since it was officially declared ‘ended’, there are 11.7 manufacturing and 751,000 auto jobs. In other words, more than a quarter million auto jobs were lost since the recession started and less than half, 110,000, have been recovered (paying half pay remember!). And more than two million manufacturing jobs were lost since the start of the recession and the number of manufacturing jobs today is still less by 100,000 today than when the recession officially ended three years ago!

To conclude, after three years and three repeated false job recoveries the outlook for a sustained jobs growth today is once again in decline. The fiscal-monetary policies of the past three years have not resurrected the jobs market in any sustained way, any more than they have succeeded in restoring the housing market or helping homeowners in foreclosure or have in any way stabilize state and local governments’ finances.

As this writer points out in his new book ‘Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few’, there has never been a recovery of the economy from recession since 1947 without a sustained recovery of jobs, without the housing sector leading the recovery, and without state-local government increased spending on jobs and services.

So long as current economic recovery policies focus on more tax cuts for business and investors, on more subsidies for corporations, more free trade, more deregulation, and more deficit cutting for the rest of us—there will be no sustained recovery. It will at best result in a continuation of the ‘stop-go’ economy of the past three years that is the defining characteristic of today’s on-going ‘epic’ recession.

Jack Rasmus is the author of the just released book, ‘Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few’, published and distributed by Pluto Press and Palgrave-Macmillan and the 2011 ‘An Alternative Program for Economic Recovery’. His website is: www.kyklosproductions.com and blog, jackrasmus.com, where the above referenced articles on jobs are available.

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