Monday, September 02, 2013

Labor Day: Where are the jobs?


It’s a surprise to me, anyway. We have talked for years about the declining (here and here) labor force participation rate. But for the New York Times to focus on job loss, well, that’s an event in itself.

When it comes to the New York Times, we share the view of Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of the conservative “Washington Free Beacon”:
A sort of pep talk to the liberal bourgeoisie. . . is what the New York Times under Jill Abramson has become. One reads it to confirm rather than challenge one’s perceptions of the world [--] The Republicans are no good, the president is doing the best he can, equality marches on, America is powerless to influence other countries, illegal immigration has no downside, the government should not be trusted except when it regulates the economy, “institutional” (i.e., invisible) racism plagues contemporary society, traditional religion is a curiosity, etc. . . The paper and its intended audience. . . form a closed circuit.
So it’s a shock, really, to have New York Times Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt writing:
the decline in labor force participation almost certainly receives too little attention. Each month, small changes in the unemployment rate receive great scrutiny. We often overlook just how flawed a measure of the job market that rate has become over the last 13 years.
And to make his point even more obvious, Leonhardt runs two unmistakable graphs. One shows how much the participation rate has fallen since Obama took over:

The second makes it clear we are discussing a relatively recent phenomenon. Labor force participation grew through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s as women joined the workforce and the economy boomed, then plateaued during 2002-07 before its current fall:

At least the New York Times now acknowledges we have a problem. But leave it to former Reagan-Bush 41 speechwriter Peggy Noonan, in the Wall Street Journal, to help us feel the emotional cost of our excessive unemployment:
Joblessness is a personal crisis because work is a spiritual event. A job isn't only a means to a paycheck, it's more. "To work is to pray," the old priests used to say. God made us as many things, including as workers. When you work you serve and take part. To work is to be integrated into the daily life of the nation. There is pride and satisfaction in doing work well, in working with others and learning a discipline or a craft or an art. To work is to grow and to find out who you are.
In return for performing your duties, whatever they are, you receive money that you can use freely and in accordance with your highest desire. A job allows you the satisfaction of supporting yourself or your family, or starting a family. Work allows you to renew your life, which is part of the renewing of civilization. Work gives us purpose, stability, integration, shared mission. And so to be unable to work—unable to find or hold a job—is a kind of catastrophe for a human being.
It’s Labor Day, and we most fervently desire a U.S. with more folks working. To get there, Noonan says, we need
a political leader on fire. . . with real passion about the idea of new businesses, new inventions, growth, productivity, breakthroughs and jobs, jobs, jobs. Someone in love with the romance of the marketplace. We've lost that feeling among our political leaders. . . Really good politicians don't try to read the public, they are the public. They don't try to be like the people, they actually are.

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