The Bad Jobs News

by Patrick Brennan

This morning’s jobs numbers, as Kevin Hassett and Robert Stein wrote in this space, had good news about the labor market in November, and confirmed that the economy seems to be perking up — consumer confidence is (unexpectedly) strong, GDP growth is respectable, etc. That liftoff may be enough to cause the Federal Reserve to consider slowing its bond-buying program when it makes a policy announcement next week, but it should be noted it’s far from enough to completely heal the sclerosis of the American labor market. As Jim Pethokoukis points out on his blog, unemployment remains a huge problem — more than 4 million people have been looking for a job for more than half a year — and the labor market overall hardly looks vibrant. One of the scariest charts of the recovery, showing that the share of working-age people with jobs has barely risen at all since the depths of the recession:

This problem could actually be hardening, because many people have been unemployed for a long period of time, during which their skills atrophy and networks weaken, making them unlikely ever to return to work. The share of the unemployed who’ve been out of work for half a year or more is higher than it was at the peak of the early-1980s recession:

And the absolute number, though it’s dropping, remains stubbornly high:

What can be done about it? AEI’s Michael Strain has some ideas in the most recent issue of The Weekly Standard — a lower minimum wage for the long-term unemployed, for instance, to reduce the risk incurred by employers who are wary of bringing them back into the work force, or relocation credits to help them find a job in a more economically vibrant part of the country. (He covered these ideas and others in an essay for NR in June.) Even if the economy is recovering, this represents a persistent and serious social problem — and one to which conservatives, who don’t lack for zeal in promoting economic opportunity and upward mobility for all, should pay special attention.

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