Our Economic Recovery
If you believe what you read in the papers, we are in the midst of a genuine, bona fide economic recovery. You can tell because the bad numbers are smaller and the good numbers are bigger. The unemployment rate has stabilized at 8.3 percent, we’ve added a little over two million jobs to the national payroll over the past six months, and the stock market’s up. It’s morning in America, everyone!
Journalists started talking like this during last week’s news cycle. Every show and newspaper featured at least one story about the numbers getting better, usually capped with some economist cautioning, with a carefully vacuous caveat, that “This number is good. But there are also other numbers. In the future, there may be more numbers.” Seriousness!
Some politicians are eagerly presenting the latest figures as evidence that we’re all going to be OK. But we’re not. Even Americans with jobs are lacking basic financial security, earning wages that are actually shrinking when adjusted for inflation.
The unemployment rate is also blind to underemployment. A 20-hour-a-week gig at a Sears cash register makes you “employed,” whether you’re a high school student, a 57-year-old telephone lineman, or a law school graduate. The term is “employed,” not “gainfully employed.” You can be hustling backwards working three part-time jobs or you can be crushed under debt, you can be literally dying of a chronic illness you can’t afford to treat, but you’re still just “employed” to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau measures whether you’re in the employment pool. It doesn’t measure whether you’re drowning.