Sunday, July 12, 2015

Job Growth Still Weak, Like the Recovery

Last week brought more mediocre news about the Nation's economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics ("BLS"), the economy added a seasonally-adjusted 223,000 jobs in June, 2015, the 73rd month of this economic recovery.  (The current recovery started in June, 2009.)   The BLS also revised downward the employment growth figures for April and March.   These results follow prior reports that the economy grew a mere 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2015, "nearly grinding to a halt," as a report in the Washington Post put it.

The New York Times, for instance, claims these latest employment figures show "healthy" job growth, consistent with its prior claim that May job growth (now revised downward) was "strong." (To be fair, another Times analyst opines that the June numbers are "weaker than they look.")  Analysis of the historical record, particularly that of the nation's recovery from the 1981-82 recession, suggests that June job growth, like that throughout this recovery, was quite disappointing.

As noted above, June, 2015 is the 73rd month of the recovery that began in June, 2009.  By comparison, the so-called Reagan recovery began in November, 1982.  The 73rd month of that recovery, November, 1988, saw job growth of 339,000, about 52 percent larger than that of June 2015.  (Go to this website and insert the appropriate dates to generate these figures.)    Moreover, this 52 percent figure actually understates the gap between job growth in these two months. After all, the workforce and thus total employment was significantly smaller (106,277,000) in October, 1988 than it was this most recent May (141,619,000).   Hence, employment grew at a rate of just over three tenths of one percent in November 1988 compared to the prior month's level, slightly more than double the June 2015 rate of growth. The significant disparity between these two months is not an anomaly: total employment increased by nearly nine tenths of one percent in the combined months of September, October and November of 1988, compared to less than five tenths of one percent in April, May and June 2015.     Previous posts on this blog have reached similar conclusions about the relative strength of employment growth during the Reagan recovery and the Obama recovery.  (See here and here, for instance.).  The left-leaning Center for American Progress apparently agrees.  In a recent essay about the state of the employment market, the CAP concludes that: "job growth remains weak compared to previous recessions."  (By "previous recessions" the essay apparently means "recoveries from previous recessions."). 

Such disappointing employment growth should not be surprising, given the slow pace of economic growth during this recovery which, as noted above, began in June, 2009.  Here are the annual rates of GDP growth for the last five years, according to the World Bank, beginning with 2010, the first full year of recovery from this most recent recession:

2010:   2.5

2011:   1.6

2012:   2.3

2013:   2.2

2014:   2.4

Thus, annual GDP growth averaged 2.2 percent during this period.

Here, by contrast, are the annual rates of GDP growth during the Reagan recovery, beginning with 1983, the first full year of recovery from this recession:

1983:  4.6

1984:  7.3

1985:  4.2

1986:  3.5

1987:  3.5

1988:  4.2

Annual GDP growth averaged 4.6 percent during this period, more than twice that during the Obama recovery.  (Note that excluding the 1983 figure results in the same rate of average annual GDP growth, namely, 4.6 percent). 

Economists and others will no doubt spend decades debating why the Obama recovery is so weak.  However, there can be no doubt that, judged by the rate of economic expansion and employment growth, this recovery is a disappointment that still leaves millions of Americans without the economic opportunities they deserve.