It’s also true that the jobless rate “is understating the labor market distress,” says Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. If you lose your job, it’s tougher to find a new one than the unemployment rate implies. About 40 percent of the jobless have been without work for 15 weeks or more. That’s as bad as the early 1980s and exceeds the peak of the early 1990s (36 percent in 1992). Because jobs are scarce, Bernstein says people stop looking — and are no longer included in the unemployed. Counting those workers could push the unemployment rate above 7 percent. Some of the decline in labor force participation may simply be early retirement, notes Marc Sumerlin, a former White House economist now with the Lindsey Group. Still, Bernstein’s adjustment goes in the right direction.
All this is a bad brew for Bush. Some of the steepest increases in joblessness have occurred in “battleground states.” The unemployment rate is 6.7 percent in Illinois (up from a recent low of 4.1 percent), 7.6 percent in Michigan (up from 3.1 percent) and 6.2 percent in Ohio (up from 3.6 percent). The Democrats, the press and the offshoring furor are all fanning job insecurity. But the cruelest blow may be that many of Bush’s supposed allies in large and small businesses are quietly helping the other guy.
Instead of gaining jobs last year, metro Atlanta actually lost 16,800, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.
Earlier figures indicated that there had been an increase of 67,900 jobs in the Atlanta area in 2003, which appeared to make the area a national leader in job creation.
“The numbers can get a little weird when the economy is in flux,” said John Lawrence, assistant director of work force information and analysis for the Labor Department.
One reason for the drastic change is that many companies that had gone out of business were not counted in the initial survey, Lawrence said Wednesday.
The most recent update shows Georgia starting 2003 with 3,903,300 jobs and ending the year with 3,899,800. Metro Atlanta came into last year with 2,196,100 jobs and 12 months later had 2,179,300.
Nationally, the unemployment rate has drifted down to 5.6 percent. Recessions two decades ago produced jobless rates nearly twice as high. But millions of Americans have slipped out of the labor force — and are no longer counted as unemployed.
The nation has lost about 2.4 million jobs since the recession began in early 2001. More than 150,000 new jobs per month are needed to soak up the pool of the unemployed.
Job growth started again last summer, but has averaged just 61,000 jobs per month. In February, the growth was only 21,000 jobs.