In a task-force report Vice President Joe Biden sent to President Obama this week, reporting on his examination of jobs-training programs, Biden made a surprisingly impressive claim about the labor market:
Businesses are hiring at historic rates, with 52 consecutive months of net private sector job growth. Manufacturing is back, with 668,000 new jobs in the past 52 months.
Payrolls have indeed grown for 52 consecutive months — but that says nothing about the rate at which businesses are hiring. If you’re thinking the still-slack jobs market, though, makes it hard to believe business are hiring at historic rates, your intuition is right. Biden is flat-out wrong.
There are official government statistics on this, and there are two ways to measure the rate at which business are hiring: hires made per month as a percentage of the number of employed Americans, and the gross number of hires per month. Both measures have only been collected since 2001, but even in the last ten years, business have hired at significantly faster rates, for longer, than they are now, despite what Biden claims. In fact, most of the Bush years handily outstripped the very best of the Obama years. Hires each month as a percentage of payrolls:
And the gross number of Americans hired to a new job every month — bear in mind that the labor force is of course bigger now than it was in the Bush years.
This isn’t a secret; these statistics are pretty closely watched as economic indicators. In fact, some people have tossed around the term “hireless recovery” to describe the Great Recovery. Layoffs have slowed dramatically and job openings have risen, but businesses aren’t hiring quickly at all. That’s far from all or mostly the Obama administration’s fault, but Biden’s economics and writing teams shouldn’t be slinging around patently false statements.
And they ought to know, also, that there’s little to boast about in the way of a manufacturing-jobs recovery. Here’s what Biden calls manufacturing being “back”:
Now, in fairness, manufacturing jobs are never really going to be “back,” so it’s all relative. But let’s look at it relative to the Obama administration’s promises. The red line here is the growth in manufacturing jobs the president promised toward the end of the 2012 campaign and the blue line is actual jobs. As you can see, manufacturing jobs have grown at less than half the rate promised (about 8,700 jobs a month versus 21,000):
Manufacturing in America is back, some, but the jobs really aren’t (as the Obama administration probably should have known). In any case, Biden’s report on job training seems to have some interesting ideas, and he and the president were celebrating today the signing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a reauthorization of a number of Department of Labor training programs that isn’t a bad idea: It’ll eliminate a number of them that have been shown not to work, and jobs-training programs are hardly lavishly funded. Unfortunately, the bill is still going to spend more on programs that haven’t proven their effectiveness.