October 3, 2009
|Those who do cling to the absurd belief that, absent exponential productivity gains, the economy can expand while workers are being laid off will undergo a massive test of their convictions now that it’s clear the employment picture is bleak.|
For those market boosters who are prattling on about the possibility of a “jobless recovery,” I offer an invitation to join me for a breakfast of “fat-free bacon,” “eggless omelets,” and “no-carb bread.” As unappetizing as such a meal may sound, it would nevertheless offer more substance than the oxymoronic concept of an economic resurgence without job creation.
Those who do cling to the absurd belief that, absent exponential productivity gains, the economy can expand while workers are being laid off will undergo a massive test of their convictions now that it’s clear the employment picture is bleak. Today’s weaker-than-expected report on non-farm payrolls revealed that employers shed 263,000 jobs in September. The losses propelled the headline unemployment rate to a 26-year high of 9.8%. U6, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most complete measure of unemployment, has risen to a dismal 17%. This figure includes those people who want to work full time, but have simply given up looking, or who have accepted part-time work in the interim. As it is similar to the methodology used during the Great Depression, U6 offers better historical perspective on the severity of our current crisis.
Taken together with yesterday’s larger-than-expected pickup in unemployment claims (first time claims rose by 17,000 to 551,000), today’s report makes it certain that the job market is still contracting, even while some indicators like GDP and consumer confidence are moving in the opposite direction.
There is no question that the sense of panic has temporarily subsided. In recent interviews, Treasury Secretary Geithner has been almost giddy in his descriptions of the recovery – all the while crediting his own policies for averting disaster. Americans are once again taking the government’s bait by spending money they don’t have to buy things they can’t afford. Evidence of this trend was contained in data released earlier this week which showed that even while income growth was largely stagnant, U.S. consumers showed the biggest month-over-month increase in personal spending in ten years! With the same report showing a 25% drop in the savings rate, the source of the spending money is clear. But depleting savings and increasing borrowing does not a recovery make.