Officially, the recession ended in June 2009. But for many Americans, the recession is still in full force. New research shows that the recovery is not being evenly shared. Overall, workers’ earnings are down because the jobs that are hiring pay less than the jobs that were lost. Minorities face much higher unemployment and live disproportionately in states which have the worst economic climate. Young people face especially daunting job prospects. So perhaps it’s no surprise that a recent CBS/New York Times poll shows that only 23% of Americans think the economy is getting better.
Meanwhile, politicians in Washington are discussing budget cuts that could derail the recovery and undermine our long-term competitiveness. Right now, we need to invest in the infrastructure of job training and education, which is a driver of our economy and will help put Americans back to work.
Well-Being Is Not Improving After the Recession
The Center on Social Exclusion went beyond just measuring gross domestic product to examine 14 indicators of well-being in four categories (housing, health, jobs, and socio-fiscal). Looking back over the last 18 months, the study found that most states had not improved their well-being. Many are still treading water, and 15-24 states have actually continued to lose ground in each of the categories. Furthermore, states with higher percentage minority populations have fared worse on these measures than predominantly white states.
Unemployment Is Improving Slightly,
But Long-Term Unemployment Continues to Worsen
Private sector hiring is improving, but even with 216,000 new jobs in March we have a long way to go. There is still only one job opening for every four unemployed workers. We need to add 127,000 new jobs every month just to keep up with population growth. At this rate it would take five and a half years just to halve the unemployment rate down to a more acceptable 4.4%. There at 13.5 million unemployed Americans who are actively seeking work, plus 8.4 million Americans who are working part-time only because they can’t find full-time jobs, and at least another 2.4 million who would like to work but aren’t looking right now. The length of time workers are unemployed is still inching up; half of those unemployed have been looking for five months or longer (the average amount of time out of work is now nine months and rising). The overall unemployment rate is 8.8%, but the rate remains especially high for those with limited education, Hispanics (11.9%), Blacks (15.5%), teenagers (24.5%), those aged 20-24 (15.0%), veterans who’ve served since 2001 (10.9%), and persons with a disability (15.6%).
Real Earnings Are Falling While Corporate Profits Soar
While more Americans are finding work, wages and earnings are heading in the wrong direction.
The economy has been expanding for almost two years. Real corporate profits neared an all-time high in 2010, and top CEOs earned 23% more in 2010 than 2009. But the gains in productivity generated by American workers are not ending up in their pocketbooks. Instead, the Wall Street Journal reported last month that, while productivity has climbed 5.2% in the first 18 months of the recovery, that had translated into record profits for shareholders, not higher wages for workers. In fact, since that story broke, real hourly wages have fallen more than 1% in the last two months alone. And that’s not an isolated blip. From March 2009 to March 2011, the average American worker lost 1% of their total earnings in real terms.
Good Jobs Lost During the Recession Are Being Replaced By Low-Wage Jobs
The National Employment Law Project released a report that shows that while the recession’s job losses were concentrated in higher-wage industries (especially construction, non-durable manufacturing, finance/insurance, and information), the limited job gains since have come disproportionately in the low-wage industries (temporary jobs, retail, administrative support, and the service sector).
We Must Re-Invest in an Equitable Recovery That Creates Jobs
We need to invest in education and training for American workers so we can innovate, grow the economy, and create jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage. The president has called on all Americans to get at least one year of education or training after high school. That extra education is critical; workers over 25 with some college or an associate’s degree currently have an unemployment rate of 7.7%, compared to 10.5% for high school grads and 15.2% for those with no high school degree. Last year, the federal Workforce Investment Act system, which provides training and job search assistance, served 8.4 million Americans and helped 4.3 million get jobs.
But our national infrastructure for job training and education is under threat. The continuing resolution recently passed by Congress to fund the government through fiscal year 2011 cut $1 billion from our nation’s investments in job training and education, though even further cuts were averted. And House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s long-term budget proposal, which passed the House on April 15, included naïve assumptions about Pell grants, community colleges and the workforce development system, and drastic (though still vague) cuts to these critical programs. It should be obvious, but now is not the time to cut job training and employment services. Solving our budget crisis is important, but slashing the workforce development system will undermine our future competiveness and growth. Right now, we need to get Americans back to work.