Saturday, May 30, 2015

Yesterday's Unemployment Report Signals a Continuing Slow Growth and High Underemployment Economy Ahead

Yesterday morning's unemployment report was another weak one, which we commented on at the time in 'Is a Solid Economic Recovery Underway? . . .'

But the political spin machine was out in full force later in the day and the weakness was 'explained away' as a temporary interruption of a solid economic recovery which is very much on track. Unfortunately, that's simply not true.

The politicians and many similarly minded pundits want us to believe that the first quarter's weakness was simply a result of bad weather, the West Coast dock strike and a strong U. S. dollar. That's all true, of course, but that's not the whole story --- not even close.

In fact, it's not even the critical part of the story of what looks like future slow growth and underemployment for a long time to come. Government policies can't solve our problems with growth and underemployment, but they can keep them from being properly addressed by private sector initiatives. And that's just what they are doing.

The Economy Will Rebound, but Prosperity Won't delivers the bad news about the less-than-rosy outlook for a healthy American economy:

"Rearview mirrors exist for a reason: to help us see what’s sneaking up on us from behind. The quarterly economic report is a rearview mirror. The latest one, released on Friday, shows that the economy contracted at an annual pace of 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015. Activity has picked up since then, so the tendency is strong to dismiss what is in the mirror, along these lines:
  • Economists expected the first-quarter decline, so no one is shocked.
  • Statistical quirks might be in play, so conditions may have been stronger in the first quarter than the data indicate.
  • The weather has improved since the first quarter, the port strike on the West Coast has ended and second-quarter data rule out an impending recession, so full speed ahead!
There is some truth to all of that. The problem is that “full speed” in today’s economy is too slow to generate broad prosperity. Given the dismal first quarter, the economy is set to grow at an annual rate of 2 percent to 3 percent for the year, its pace through much of the recovery that began in mid-2009. . . . 

The overarching cause of the economy’s inability to achieve and sustain robust growth is the continued failure to employ everyone who wants and needs a job.

There has been a lot of justifiable high-fiving about the steady fall in the unemployment rate, to 5.4 percent recently. But joblessness is still higher than it was before the last recession began at the end of 2007. Unemployment is still above the pre-recession levels in Washington, D.C. and 36 states, including California, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

Despite steady if lackluster economic growth, job prospects are still rocky even for recent college graduates. The average unemployment rate in the past year for college grads ages 21 to 24 was 7.2 percent, compared to 5.5 percent in the pre-recession year of 2007. Their underemployment rate, which includes those who do not have full-time hours, is 14.9 percent, compared to 9.6 percent in 2007.

The situation is even worse for recent high school graduates. The average unemployment rate for high school grads ages 17 to 21 is now 19.5 percent, compared to 15.9 percent in 2007; underemployment is 37 percent, compared to 26.8 percent in 2007.

The economy is in much better shape than it was a few years ago. But it is still ailing. Healthy growth requires healthy employment with rising wages. . . .

The economy will rebound in the second quarter. But it is not yet on its way to full employment, which is the only way to broad prosperity."

Summing Up
We are in the middle of a long term economic mess.

Debts are too high, underemployment is too high, unproductive government spending is too high, and the costs of educating our youngsters are too high.
Personal savings and investment are too low, good jobs are too few, productive private sector investment is too low, and the quality of our educational efforts and outputs are too low.

Each of the above is simply stated and easily seen.

None of the above is easily solved.

Simple and easy must never be confused for each other, and that's why today things don't look so good for future generations of Americans.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

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