First, the good news....
The unemployment rate moved downward another notch in April, to 8.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday, and the ranks of the unemployed fell by 173,000, after the employment gains of March were found greater than initially estimated.
Unfortunately, the rate drop was hardly the good news it seemed to be. The improvement in the unemployment rate in April was entirely due to people dropping out of, or not entering, the labor force because of weak job prospects. The unemployment figure, which reflects the percentage of people looking for work, fell largely because people gave up trying to find jobs. People who quit seeking work are no longer counted as unemployed. The labor force, defined as the number of people working or seeking work, fell by 342,000 in April.
The economy added 115,000 payroll jobs last month, a meager showing compared with earlier this year, when the jobs tally was rising at twice that rate and was sowing optimism about the nations economic prospects.
The number of long-term unemployed, those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more, was little changed at 5.1 million in April. That group makes up more than 40 percent of the 12.5 million on the jobless rolls.
The number of persons employed part-timefor economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was essentially unchanged in April at 7.9 million. These individuals were working part-time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.
The job figures are generally telling us that discouragement is rising. Add that to the concerns that the economic recovery may be slowing, after the Commerce Department reported that during the first three months of 2012, economic growth had slowed to an annual rate of 2.2 percent, after reaching 3 percent growth at the end of 2011.
The unemployment numbers, which may be the economic statistic bandied about the most in a presidential contest, were seized upon by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who called Friday's report terrible and very disappointing. Romney suggested that job growth in a recovery, following such a deep recession, should be closer to 500,000 jobs a month. "This is way, way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery", he said. "It's a terrible and very disappointing report this morning. We seem to be slowing down, not speeding up. This is not progress."
President Obama actually touted the jobs picture as progress in a speech on education loans to students at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington County. "The unemployment rate ticked down again", he said. "So after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, our businesses have now created more than 4.2 million new jobs over the last 26 months, more than 1 million jobs in the last six months alone. So that's the good news. But there are still a lot of folks out of work, which means that we've got to do more."
Really, Mr. President? More to do? You have taken credit for finding the bottom of an economic downturn. Although nothing you have done led to its bottoming, and you've done little to bring about any measurable turnaround. You have manned the helm of stagnant economic growth and repeated jobs reports that show we are merely treading water.
Over the past four months, the number of non-farm payroll jobs has climbed 200,000 a month on average, barely what is needed to keep up with population growth. At that average, it would take the majority of a decade to return to a normal level of employment. The economy would have to add jobs at three times the current rate to return to normal employment levels in three years. The lack of job creation means there are between 3 million and 4 million additional people who would be working, or looking for work, if their job prospects were better. Currently, we have the smallest percentage of Americans participating in the work force in over thirty years.
To summarize, there are 20.5 million workers either unemployed or under-employed, and another 3 or 4 million that have simply quit looking. Throughout history, it has been found that Americans do not easily give up when times are tough. Today, one out of every five people who have been adversely affected by this economic downturn, have given up entirely.
And that's the bad news..
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