The Obama administration on Thursday will kick-off a program that allows people to experiment with a new job while still receiving unemployment benefits as part of an effort to help some 5.3 million Americans who have been out of work for six months or longer. Ten states will be able to apply to participate in the program, and the Labor Department will announce the application process Thursday, according to a White House official.
The official unemployment rate, currently at an unattractive 8.2%, understates the true weakness of the labor market. If you applied the July 2009 number to today’s pool of potential workers, unemployment would be somewhere north of 10%. If you applied the 2007 number, unemployment would be 11.8%.
After three years with unemployment topping 8 percent, the U.S. has seen the longest period of high unemployment since the Great Depression, the Congressional Budget Office noted in a report issued today.
And, despite some recent good news on the economic front, the CBO is still predicting that unemployment will remain above 8 percent until 2014. The report also notes that, including those who haven’t sought work in the past four weeks and those who are working part-time but seeking full-time employment, the unemployment rate would be 15 percent.
A year ago, there were 99 million people either officially unemployed or otherwise not working, and the official unemployment rate was 9.1 percent. Now, unemployment reported by the government is down to 8.3 percent, but the number without jobs has topped 100 million. The disconnect between increasing joblessness in America and the rosy White House official statistics should be the subject of a congressional investigation. Something does not add up.
CBO: Had that portion of the decline in the labor force participation rate since 2007 that is attributable to neither the aging of the baby boomers nor the downturn in the business cycle (on the basis of the experience in previous downturns) not occurred, the unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2011 would have been about 1¼ percentage points higher than the actual rate of 8.7 percent. In other words, the real unemployment rate is 10%.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the last 12 months, a net of 1.5 million more Americans found work. This sounds like good news, but the civilian non-institutional worker population increased by 1.7 million over the same period, and the raw percentage of Americans working has basically flatlined at 58.5 percent. To the extent there are new jobs, it has more to do with the fact that there are more people creating more demand, not with any fundamental expansion in the economy.
An analysis posted last week at the Zero Hedge website looked at what the unemployment picture would be if participation rates were held steady. Using more realistic long-term average participation rates, the study calculated a current unemployment rate of 11.4 percent. While the Obama administration’s numbers keep getting better, rates based on long-term participation do not. Factor in the number of Americans who hold down two or three jobs just to get by, and those who are chronically underemployed make the picture even grimmer.