Just when you thought things were starting to pick up ...
On Friday, officials with the U.S. Department of Labor reported some uglier-than-expected numbers. Jobs created in the month of May were the fewest in a year — 69,000 — and numbers for jobs created the previous two months were dialed back by 49,000, which means that there was a net gain of only 20,000 jobs at the end of May from what federal officials told us there were at the end of April.
That’s led to an increase in the unemployment rate for the nation. April’s 8.1 percent jobless rate moved up a notch to 8.2 percent in May.
Even more important is America’s employment rate, the percentage of U.S. adults who have jobs. According to numbers reported Friday by The Associated Press, when the recession “officially” ended in June 2009, the employment rate was 59.4 percent. Now, 58.6 percent of adult Americans are working and 63.8 percent are working or looking for work. Estimates are that more then 3.5 million people have given up looking for a job. Of the 642,000 Americans who started looking for a job in April, almost half were at least 55 years old.
And those who have jobs, according to the AP report, aren’t seeing much in the way of wage increases. Many of those who are getting raises are finding they trail the inflation rate.
So, there we are. June opened on a sour note, to say the least.
There is a bit of a silver lining to these dark economic clouds. Experts say they’re trimming their expectations for economic growth this year, but they don’t see a recession storm brewing, though maintaining the optimism will depend on something that has proven terribly undependable for some years now — Congress.
Outside of a collapse of the European Union that would likely drag the entire world into another recession, economists appear most worried about the action — or rather, inaction — of the U.S. Legislature, where divisions are wide enough to drive Pharaoh’s army through the gap. Two big items are on the table that no legislators seem to want to sit around. If Congress doesn’t act before the end of the year, Americans will see their income taxes go up and federal spending cuts of $100 billion will hit.
The Congressional Budget Office says that one-two punch would result in the U.S. economy shrinking for the first half of 2013, which would meet the requirement of an “official” recession.
The problem is that it’s an election year, a time when both political parties worry about only one segment of the employment picture — theirs. Capturing the White House and control of Congress is paramount, and doing anything that gives the opposing party a public relations boost with voters is something to be shot down, regardless of whether it’s good for the nation.
In a time when we need statesmen, we’re encumbered with politicians. And that will continue until we demand better.
You get what you vote for.