Human Events Blog

January unemployment: 7.9 percent

The new unemployment report is out, and it’s more or less status quo.  Throw in the adjustments for previous months, and it’s pretty much a flat line back to September, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics pointed out when unveiling a January number of 7.9 percent.

“Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.3 percent), adult women (7.3 percent), teenagers (23.4 percent), whites (7.0 percent), blacks (13.8 percent), and Hispanics (9.7 percent) showed little or no change in January,” says the BLS.  “The jobless rate for Asians was 6.5 percent (not seasonally adjusted), little changed from a year earlier.”

Long-term unemployment and the more accurate U-6 metric remained essentially unchanged, as did the labor force participation rate, which is good news.  The complete exodus of workers from the collapsing labor force was the great under-reported story of the first Obama term; reporters would happily chirp about a slightly declining U-3 unemployment number without noting that almost all of the “improvement” came because people were giving up on the job hunt altogether.  It is also worth noting when the bleeding stops.  Also, the average duration of unemployment reached a one-year low of 35.3 weeks.

157,000 jobs were created in January, which is roughly equivalent to population growth.  Overall, 2012 was a year of weary stasis for the employment market; it’s not much of a “recovery,” but the markets will be pleased that things don’t seem to be getting any worse.  (Well, actually, they are: the big upward revisions to November and December mean the employment picture got  a bit worse in January.)  And the American people seem to have made their peace with the New Normal.  Remember when years of real double-digit unemployment – it would still be well over 10 percent today, if the workforce hadn’t contracted – would have caused anguish and angry demands for new leadership, and a White House that spun reports like the latest unemployment and GDP numbers as leaving America “poised for growth” would have been caricatured as delusional by late-night comedians?  We’re happy with less now.

One group whose comfort level with the New Normal seems odd is young people.  As the pro-growth Generation Opportunity pointed out today, the unemployment rate for ages 18-29 is 13.1 percent, and if you factor in their still-declining workforce participation rate, it jumps to 16.2 percent.  “President Obama says America should be ‘investing in the generation that will build its future,’ yet four years of his government-driven economic policies have left us with record youth unemployment and an economy that is literally shrinking. My generation is suffering disproportionately,” said Terence Grado, the Director of National and State Policy at Generation Opportunity.

Grado warns against “staying the course and doubling down on failure,” but that’s exactly what President Obama promised in his second inaugural speech – and just wait until the huge new cohort of freshly-legalized aliens surges into the job market!  There’s not much in this employment picture for young people to feel good about.  The biggest job gains in January came from retail.  Health care is still hiring, but no one can look upon the tottering edifice of ObamaCare and think that’s likely to hold up for long.  The best long-term news is the recovery of housing and a corresponding increase in construction jobs.  The young need a wave of growth, but we’re just treading water, and President Obama no longer even bothers to pretend that job growth is one of his top priorities.

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