George Zornick is a Washington reporter at The Nation.
The economy added 163,000 jobs in July, a notable uptick from the 80,000 added in June and well above the prediction that 100,000 jobs would be added. After several months of slumping numbers, it could mean the slide has been arrested — which is good news — but this is not the start of a real recovery.
We reprint this chart almost every time there's a new jobs report, but here it is again — a stark reminder that the country sits in a deep valley of mass unemployment:
All year, the economy has been adding jobs roughly around the level needed to keep up with population gains — sometimes more, as was the case in June and earlier this year, sometimes less, as was true in the spring and early summer months.
The monthly numbers are magnified by the presidential election, which will largely turn on the economy and the employment situation in particular. But ultimately, these monthly ups and downs are almost just static noise — and a serious policy response is desperately needed, and failing one, we'll just keep seeing jobs reports that are just extensions of a sad status quo. "Today's jobs report showing some pickup in job creation does not reduce the need for policymakers to implement measures to give the flagging recovery a needed boost," said Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. "The overall pace of job creation remains modest, and jobs remain very difficult to find for large numbers of the unemployed — a situation that likely will persist for some time."
Unfortunately, that response remains elusive. We can guarantee it won't come if Republicans regain control of the government in November — an analysis out this week from the Center for American Progress found that Mitt Romney's economic plan, with deep cuts in federal spending and tax hikes for middle-income earners, would strip 360,000 jobs in 2013 alone.
President Obama has a noble jobs plan calling for investment in public sector hiring and the creation of an infrastructure bank. It would create 1.9 million jobs in the first year, which is wonderful for those people and should be enacted — but 25 million people are unable to find full-time work, so more will be needed.
And just this week we saw how hard it can be for the administration to move Washington forward on jobs anyhow. The Federal Reserve declined to take any action on unemployment, despite professed concern for the economy. And FHFA head Edward DeMarco declined to throw a lifeline to underwater homeowners involved with Fannie and Freddie — those two agencies won't be offering any write-downs despite proven benefits to both homeowners and taxpayers.
Congress, meanwhile, has adjourned without passing a farm bill, without rescuing the US Post Office, to say nothing of actually enacting real jobs legislation. (It did prepare to consider a bill making English language the country's official language, though).
As Jonathan Chait argued powerfully Friday morning, the political system simply isn't responsive to the problem of mass unemployment, which is the real and constant news peg every time these middling jobs numbers come out. "In the years since the collapse of 2008, the existence of mass unemployment has stopped being something the economic powers that be even pretend to regard as a crisis," he wrote. "To those directly impacted, the economic crisis is an emergency, a life-altering disaster the damage from which will endure for years. But most of those in a position to address it simply have not seen it in such terms."