Lagging investment has caused nation to lose its edge, experts say
Whether it was the Industrial Revolution and railroads or the massive building of roads and bridges during the 1950s — somehow, someway — industry has provided the necessary income to stabilize the country’s middle class.
And let’s not forget about the auto industry that helped thousands of African-Americans — many of whom were unskilled and uneducated — find decent, secure jobs that allowed them to support their families and plan for their futures.
The auto industry was known for higher than average wages and served as a gateway to the middle class for many African Americans.
“We’re still hemorrhaging jobs,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said to NPR. “Think about Chicago, New York, Memphis, Oakland and Atlanta laying off thousands of transport workers. We have to look at it in a very real way … the economic reconstruction.”
In the mid-1900s, millions of Blacks living in the South, headed north to cities throughout the Midwest, lured by job prospects and a desire to escape the oppressive racism of the South.
Automakers were among the few companies that would hire Blacks, and many of those who migrated north ended up in the auto and steel plants throughout the Midwest.
With these jobs, they were able to buy land, build homes and provide an education for their children.
As a result stable Black communities were established, and the Black middle class began to emerge. Needless to say, this is not only President Barack Obama’s plan for Blacks, but the country as a whole, as he fights for his jobs plan. Most importantly, he hopes to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.
“In every instance,” the president said earlier in the month at a news conference in the East Room of the White House, “there has been games-playing in negotiations with Republicans. I have gone out of my way in every instance, sometimes at my own political peril, to work with Republicans to find common ground to move this country forward.” Investing in infrastructure has always been at the forefront when it came to creating jobs in America and has always yielded lasting benefits for the economy, including increasing growth in the long run.
Upgrading roads, bridges, and other basic infrastructure is at the very fabric of what has made America great. It helped people earn good, middle-class incomes, which has always expanded the consumer base for businesses.
hese kinds of investments also paved the way for long-term economic growth by lowering the cost of doing business and making U.S. companies more competitive.
According to Bloomberg Business Week, the United States and other developed countries can stoke growth and reduce excess industrial capacity by investing in infrastructure at home and in potential consumer nations abroad, said the World Bank’s chief economist, Justin Lin, in New York earlier in the year.
“Whenever we have a strong wind, we have a blackout. It reminds me of the situation we had in China in the 1980s,” Lin said. “This is a good investment opportunity. If we seize this opportunity, we can turn from the new normal to the new new normal.”
He’s not alone when it comes to favoring infrastructure investment.
Mary Meeker, a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley and author of a new nonpartisan report called USA Inc., said the United States has in recent decades been spending less on productive investments, such as infrastructure and education, and more on areas of preservation, such as health care. That combination has caused America to lose its innovation edge.
“In the last 40 years, we’ve pumped the breaks on productivity-enhancing investments in infrastructure, education and technology, while health care and income security costs have accelerated dramatically,” she wrote in the Atlantic. “Like an aging couple shifting its spending away from the kids’ clothes and tuition toward pills and doctor visits, the U.S. government has transformed itself from a defense-technology-infrastructure investor to a national insurance conglomerate for its aging population.”
Productivity-enhancing spending, according to Meeker, comes from three main sources: infrastructure, education and research and development investment. The country has seen infrastructure spending collapse as a share of the budget since the 1960s.
There is ample empirical evidence that investment in infrastructure creates jobs. In particular, investments made over the past couple of years have saved or created millions of U.S. jobs.
Increased investments in infrastructure by the Department of Transportation and other agencies due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act saved or created 1.1 million jobs in the construction industry and 400,000 jobs in manufacturing by March 2011, according to San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank economist Daniel Wilson. And although infrastructure spending began with government dollars, these investments created jobs throughout the economy, mostly in the private sector.
Infrastructure projects have created jobs in communities nationwide. Recovery funds improved drinking and wastewater systems, fixed bridges and roads, and rehabilitated airports and shipyards across the nation. Some examples of high-impact infrastructure projects that have proceeded as a result of Recovery Act funding include:
• An expansion of a kilometer-long tunnel in Oakland, California, that connects two busy communities through a mountain.
• An expansion and rehabilitation of the I-76/Vare Avenue Bridge in Philadelphia and 141 other bridge upgrades that supported nearly 4,000 jobs in Pennsylvania in July 2011.
• The construction of new railway lines to serve the city of Pharr, Texas, as well as other infrastructure projects in that state that have saved or created more than 149,000 jobs through the end of 2010.
Analysis of all fiscal stimulus policies shows a higher “multiplier” from infrastructure spending than other kinds of government spending, such as tax cuts, meaning that infrastructure dollars flow through the economy and create more jobs than other kinds of spending.
Mark Zandi, the chief economist and co-founder of Moody’s Economy.com, where he directs the company’s research and consulting activities, found that every dollar of government spending boosts the economy by $1.44, whereas every dollar spent on a refundable lump-sum tax rebate adds $1.22 to the economy.
The American Jobs Act seeks to remedy this situation by investing $105 billion in infrastructure. This should raise U.S. economic output by $151.2 billion based on Zandi’s most recent economic multiplier for the impact of infrastructure spending on GDP.
Clearly, the president’s jobs bill is a “creative” way to help small companies, which have struggled more than larger ones to recover from the Great Recession of 2007–2009. According to Zandi, during recoveries, small businesses normally drive job creation.
“Something like this is much needed” for an economy grappling with 9.1 percent unemployment, Zandi said to USA Today. Considering, “the economy is on the edge of recession.”
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.
Any compromise President Obama reaches with Congress will fail to significantly reduce Black unemployment unless the plan is crafted to address joblessness in the three industries where African-American workers are concentrated – government jobs, education and health services.
According to a University of California-Berkeley Labor Center research brief titled, “Black Workers and the Public Sector,” 20.9 percent of African Americans are employed in what is called the public administration sector and 18.5 percent work in education and health services.
The report, written by Steven Pitts, shows some variations within the Black community. For example, most Black males (18 percent) are employed in the public administration sector. However, most African-American females (27 percent) are employed in education and health services. Public administration is the second-leading employer for Black women at 23.3 percent.
But the gender differences don’t stop there. After public administration, the next highest employers for Black men are manufacturing (14.7 percent), wholesale and retail trade (14.3 percent), professional and business services (9 percent) and educational and health services (8.4 percent).
By contrast, after education and health services (27 percent) and public administration (23.3 percent), Black women were employed in wholesale and retail trade (11.3 percent), professional and business services (7.2 percent) and manufacturing (7.1 percent).
Thus, when looking at the top five employment industries, the sector most likely to hire Black women – education and health services – was the one least likely to hire African-American men. Any successful job plan must take into account these gender differences.
UC-Berkeley Labor Center research challenges President Obama’s contention that a rising tide lifts all boats.
In a 2009 interview, Obama said: “The most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is to get the economy going again and get people hiring again.”
But as the Labor Center brief observes, “…Often policy prescriptions that, on the surface, are race-neutral can have decidedly racial impacts.”
That’s crucial when considering Black unemployment is at the highest level in 27 years. As the U.S. Department of Labor report titled, “The Black Labor Force in the Recovery” notes, the unemployment rate of Blacks in 2007, the year the recession began, was 8.3 percent, compared to 4.1 percent for whites and 5.6 percent for Latinos.
Overall unemployment peaked at 10.1 percent in October but fell to 9.1 percent in July and August. Black unemployment had peaked at 16.5 percent in March and April of 2011. But that was eclipsed last month when Black unemployment rose to 16.7 percent – twice as high as it was when Obama assumed office.
Although President Obama shouldn’t be blamed for the increase in Black unemployment, he does have a responsibility to effectively address the issue. And there are no simple solutions.
There is a tendency to discuss Black unemployment in the abstract, but a look at the numbers reveals gender and racial variations. The overall unemployment rate in August was 9.1 percent. The unemployment rate for whites was 8 percent, 11.3 percent for Latinos and 16.7 percent for African Americans.
Unemployment among Black females edged up slightly from July to August from 14.3 percent to 14.5 percent. Over this same period, Black men saw their unemployment rate jump from 17.7 percent to 19.1 percent.
African-American female teens, ages 16-19, had a higher unemployment level (47.9 percent) than their male counterparts (45.2 percent). The teen female unemployment rate has risen steadily, from 26.8 percent in December 2007 to 33.8 percent in June 2009, to 40.4 percent in July 2011 and to a top of 47.9 percent in August.
Black male teens experienced a more uneven ride, increasing from 39.8 percent in December 2007 to 45.1 percent in June 2009 before falling to 38 percent in July 2011 and rising again to 45.2 percent last month.
Commentators like to remind President Obama that his ability to keep his job in 2012 is contingent upon how well he handles the jobs issue. From time to time, he places the unemployment issue at the top of his agenda. Often – as part of an agenda driven by his political opponents – his attention is diverted by some superfluous issue as his birth certificate or the phony debt ceiling debate.
As evidenced by his speech Thursday night to a joint session of Congress, job creation is back at the top of the White House agenda. After a net loss of jobs in August, the president can’t afford to allow himself to be diverted from his main challenge again. That will necessitate taking bold action to restart the economy and not proposing only what he thinks can be passed in Tea Party-dominated House of Representatives.
Great presidents – including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson – are still respected decades after leaving the White House because they molded public opinion during a time of monumental crisis. If Barack Obama wants to be considered a great president or to even get re-elected, he must demonstrate strong leadership as his opponents try to deliver on their pledge to deny him a second term. - (NNPA)
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.
WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says the economic recovery "is close to faltering" and the central bank is prepared to take further steps to support it.
The economy is growing more slowly than the Federal Reserve had expected, Bernanke said Tuesday before the congressional Joint Economic Committee. He said the biggest factor depressing consumer confidence is poor job growth.
"We need to make sure that the recovery continues and doesn't drop back and that the unemployment rate continues to fall downward," Bernanke said.
Stocks came off their morning lows after Bernanke inferred that the Fed could adopt additional stimulus measures in the coming months. The Dow Jones industrial average had fallen more than 200 points but recovered most of those losses to be down only 64 points at midday.
Bernanke offered his grim assessment after the economy barely grew in the first half of the year and it created no net jobs in August. Consumer confidence fell this summer to the lowest point since the recession. Europe's debt crisis has also intensified.
After their September meeting, Fed policymakers warned of significant downside risks to the economic outlook. As a result, the Fed voted to shift $400 billion of the Fed's investment portfolio from short- to longer-term Treasurys to try to drive down long-term rates.
In August, the Fed said it planned to keep short-term rates at record lows until at least mid-2013, assuming the economy remained weak.
Both decisions drew three dissenting votes on the Fed's policy committee. The three dissents, all from regional Fed bank presidents, were the most dissents in nearly 20 years.
Republican leaders in Congress also urged Bernanke and the Fed against taking action to lower rates. The GOP lawmakers and Bernanke have clashed in recent months over how best to invigorate the economy.
On Tuesday, Bernanke wasn't shy in offering Congress more advice: He reiterated his warning that lawmakers should not cut spending sharply while the economy is weak.
In a speech in Cleveland last week, Bernanke called long-term unemployment a "national crisis" and said Congress should take further steps to address it. Bernanke noted that about 45 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for at least six months — a level previously unseen in the six decades since World War II.
In that speech, Bernanke said there was only so much the Fed's interest rate policies could achieve. He said that long-term unemployment, budget deficits and the depressed housing market were three priority areas that Congress should address.
Tuesday is the first time Bernanke is discussing his economic outlook with lawmakers since he delivered the Fed's twice-a-year economic report to Congress in July. In that testimony, Bernanke laid out steps the central bank could take to support economic growth.
One of the remaining options is a third round of bond buying that would expand the Fed's holdings of securities, already at record levels. Another is reducing the interest the Fed pays banks for their excess reserves. That step would be intended to reduce the incentive for banks to keep their money at the Fed. So they might lend more.
The central bank's next policy meeting is scheduled for Nov. 1-2. Because the economy is still struggling to grow, many private economists think the Fed will take some further step to try to reduce the risk of another recession.
The economy slowed to an annual growth rate of just 0.9 percent in the first six months of this year. Forecasters think growth will rebound only slightly in the final half of this year — to an annual rate of 2 percent to 2.5 percent.
Growth at that pace would be far too weak to significantly lower the unemployment rate. The rate remained stuck at 9.1 percent in August, a month when employers didn't add any jobs at all. -- (AP)
I was among the millions who eagerly looked forward to President Obama’s speech on jobs last week and hoped our president would finally get his arms around the issue that plagues millions of Americans. The official unemployment rates, after all, are nothing more than a pleasant fiction. The 9.1 percent unemployment rate for August is actually a whopping 16.2 percent. For African Americans, the unemployment rate, reported at 16.7 percent, looks more like 29.3 percent. For African-American men, the unemployment rate, reported at 18 percent, is more like 32 percent when discouraged workers, people who have dropped out of the labor force and those who work part time but need full time work are added into the equation. The average unemployed American has been out of work for 10 months! Some have not been working for as many as two years! Debt ceiling notwithstanding, the unemployment situation is our nation’s greatest challenge at this time.
I was pleasantly surprised by President Obama’s speech. He showed an amazing firmness, and reminded Congress that those who are unemployed have no time to wait for our legislators to get their act together. He called for a $457 billion stimulus package that included money to repair at least 35,000 schools, allowing teachers in every state to be put back to work. The president paid special attention to young people, veterans, the long-term unemployed and construction workers. There are provisions for infrastructure repair. And there are tax benefits for those employers who hire the long-term unemployed.
Of course, the last time we did stimulus, money did not trickle down to the African-American community. This time, money will be distributed through mayors, not governors, and targeting cities implicitly targets the African-American community. Money is also targeted to communities with high levels of poverty, high unemployment and high foreclosure rates, which are, again, more likely to be communities with large numbers of African Americans. At the same time, civil rights laws must be enforced so that African-American contractors have the same change as others to benefit from this stimulus. According to some estimates, only 3 percent of the money from the first stimulus trickled down to African Americans. That can’t be repeated with this second stimulus.
While the president’s speech was quite effective, the American Jobs Act has yet to be drafted. Further, the political gamesmanship around the speech — and the disrespectful scorn of some Republicans — do not bode well for this jobs bill. Republicans will have to cooperate in passing some form of a jobs bill, or they will be labeled obstructionist and will have to bear the weight of high unemployment rates moving into the 2012 election. But the president’s proposal, if watered down, may not generate enough jobs to make a difference.
If Congress works quickly, legislation can be passed within the month and some provisions can be implemented before the end of the year. If they work more slowly, it is not likely that we’ll see change in the employment situation before spring. Already, there have been both positive and negative signs. Some have pledged to cooperate with President Obama, but others have dug their heels in and opposed any stimulus.
While stimulus is much needed, it may well simply put a band aid on the festering sore that our economy has become. To be sure, President Obama said all of the right things, speaking of education, competitiveness, small business growth and development, and job creation. As he indicated, South Korea is hiring teachers while we are laying them off. China and India are investing in education, while we are divesting. This legislation moves us in the right direction, but it does not deal with some of the structural problems that plague our economy, nor does it deal with the misplaced priorities that our nation has embraced.
I don’t expect a single piece of legislation to address all of these challenges. Indeed, I am heartened to see the legislation that has been proposed. This legislation is an absolute step in the right direction, but much more must be done before our upside down economy is turned right side up. — (NNPA)
Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.
WASHINGTON — For a voter looking to preview next year's presidential election, nothing placed the competing arguments in sharper focus than a single day.
Tuesday unfolded in nearly split screen fashion, framed by President Barack Obama making his economic case at a Pittsburgh union training center, Republicans offering a rebuttal in a presidential debate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and Senate Democrats failing to overcome a Republican filibuster of Obama's $447 billion jobs bill on Capitol Hill.
"What's happened in this country, under the Obama administration, is that you have a president who I think is well-meaning but just over his head when it comes to the economy," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said, summing up the Republican view during the GOP debate.
Indeed, Republicans have built a thick brief against Obama that casts him as an ineffective naïf, too willing to prime the economy with temporary measures, too eager to raise taxes and too willing to give government stifling regulatory powers.
Obama, in turn, is defining his economic stewardship by giving credit to his policies, attributing the anemic recovery and persistent unemployment to factors beyond his control — a tsunami in Japan, unrest in the Arab world and a potentially devastating European debt crisis — and blaming congressional Republicans for blocking his latest jobs initiative.
"A lot of folks are living week-to-week, paycheck-to-paycheck, even day to day," Obama said in Pittsburgh. "They need action, and they need action now.... In other words, they want Congress to do your job."
That the GOP presidential debate, exclusively devoted to the economy, occurred on the same evening that the Senate cast its vote on Obama's jobs bill was coincidence. But both served to define Obama's Republican opposition and set the tone for the developing presidential contest.
Obama had been campaigning for the bill, making strategic stops in key presidential battleground states and in the backyards of congressional Republican leaders. The strategy is designed to build public support for the bill, but also to serve Obama's long-term political goals.
No matter who emerges from the Republican field, Obama's camp already is signaling that they will tie the GOP contender to Republicans in Congress. Their goal is to weigh down the Republican nominee with the burden of an institution held in little esteem, and to convince the country that Obama's opponent is simply a continuance of outside-the-mainstream GOP leadership.
"The Republican presidential candidates have now had many opportunities to articulate a plan for economic recovery," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Tuesday. "Instead, they have simply continued their courtship of the tea party and its ideology, marching in lockstep with the Republicans in Congress."
Obama also has been building a defense against the expected Republican attacks. The year began with an expectation in the White House, matched by many economists, that the recovery would take hold. But over ten months, the country took hits from a disaster in Japan, Arab turmoil that contributed to high gasoline prices, and the threat of a Greek financial default with global repercussions.
"And then unfortunately, Washington got involved in a self-inflicted wound with the debt ceiling fiasco," Obama said during a meeting with his jobs council in Pittsburgh. "And all those things, I think, led to both consumers and businesses taking a big step backwards and saying, we are just not sure where this thing is going."
But Obama has hitched his political fate and the economy's on his jobs plan. It would have extended and expanded payroll tax cuts, provided continued jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed, helped keep teachers and police officers on the job and paid for tens of billions of dollars in public works projects. The legislation would have paid for it all with a surtax on millionaires. Obama has said he will now seek to divvy up the bill and seek passage of its component parts.
The competing, partisan views of such an economic stimulus go to the heart of presidential politics.
Obama says the initial $825 billion stimulus that Obama succeeded in passing through Congress in 2009 halted the recession and put the economy on the path to recovery. He credits the government's intervention in the auto industry for saving General Motors and Chrysler. The president has said his new plan would create as many as 1.9 million jobs and help boost economic growth by as much as 2 percent.
Republicans counter that the 2009 stimulus failed and left the country in its current straits, with snail paced growth and unemployment stuck at 9.1 percent.
The Republican presidential field is offering a list of counterproposals. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is calling for greater domestic oil and gas exploration. Herman Cain wants a massive overhaul of the tax system, with a 9 percent corporate tax rate, a 9 percent individual tax rate and a 9 percent sales tax. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is proposing a repeal of every regulation put in place during Obama's presidency that would cost the economy more than $100 million a year.
"Repeal them all," he said.
Obama is already steeling himself.
Members of Obama's own jobs council pressed him on Tuesday to consider the impact of health, environmental and financial rules on jobs. Obama said he was sympathetic to their plea and that his administration is undertaking a review of federal regulations.
But in an argument he will likely make on the campaign trail, he said: "Once we make all the regulations smarter, eliminate the dumb ones and so forth, there's still going to be some tensions that exist around, you know, how much do we value this extra 10,000 jobs versus these extra hundred thousand asthma cases." -- (AP)
With Americans returning from the Labor Day weekend, President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidates this week offered various plans on how to put America back to work.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also offered its own jobs creation proposal.
A real job creations plan is urgently needed considering that the unemployment rate in the United States has been roughly 9 percent or above since the spring of 2009. The unemployment rate for African Americans has remained roughly at 16 percent or above.
The question is whether these various and vastly different proposals will actually create substantial number of jobs or are they being offered just to score political points.
The Economic Policy Institute offered a set of criteria for evaluating the various job creation proposals, which can be a valuable tool for Americans seeking to make sense of the various job plans.
The EPI’s criteria are:
• Will the policy make a real difference in job creation in the next 24 months?
• Is the policy effective and efficient?
• How is the policy funded?
• Is the policy scale appropriate to produce substantial number of jobs?
Any job creation plan put forth by President Obama, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and others must address the job crisis immediately and not take years to implement. Americans must be put back put back to work now and not some far off time in the future.
The policy must be effective and efficient in actually creating a significant number of jobs to seriously reduce unemployment.
A recent Associated Press article pointed out that previous job creation proposals have been inadequate.
“Lots of schemes have been tried or floated — first under Republican President George W. Bush and now under Democrat Obama. More than $2 trillion has been plowed into stimulus spending, loans and bailouts to banks, auto companies and other corporations, tax cuts for individuals and businesses, mortgage refinancing assistance and aid to state and local governments,” said AP.
“But so far, the needle has barely moved on unemployment, which has stayed near or above a frightening recession-level 9 percent for 29 months. It was 9.1 percent in August, same as the month before, with zero net gains during the month.”
The various job proposals offered are vastly different and there is no bipartisan consensus on any of them. The nation’s elected leaders are deeply divided on what to do.
The only area where there appears to be anything close to a consensus is the need for infrastructure jobs. Obama should focus on this major area of agreement where both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO agree. Obama should work to build a stronger consensus and then fight for a new urgently needed job creations policy on repairing the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure so Americans can get back to work.
The U.S. economy continues to slowly improve with a new jobs report Friday showing that the economy added just 115,000 jobs in April.
The unemployment rate slightly decreased to 8.1 percent last month from 8.2. percent in March, according to the Department of Labor. The African-American unemployment rate dropped a full point to 13 percent, one of the most positive signs in the jobs report.
The Labor Department said there was a drop in the number of people seeking jobs, a sign they are still struggling to find work. It was the second straight month the number of Americans with jobs declined.
While the number of jobs added to the economy was disappointing and a drop from recent months economists says given seasonal factors, the average job growth of the last three months — 176,000 jobs — is probably a better measure of the jobs market trend.
“This trend is well above the roughly 100,000 jobs per month we need to keep the unemployment rate stable, so the labor market continues to very slowly improve, but it is a far cry from the 300,000 or 400,000 jobs we would need per month to get back to full employment in a reasonable timeframe, “said the Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think thank.
Job growth was in manufacturing, retailers, hotels and restaurants. Professional services such as engineering and information technology, also added jobs.
There are signs that hiring will improve.
The Institute for Supply Management, a private trade group, said last week that factory activity grew at the fastest pace in 10 months.
The economy is expected to grow 2.5 percent this year, according to economists polled by the Associated Press.
That would be considered average in a healthy economy, but faster growth is needed to spur greater job creation.
WASHINGTON — The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell slightly last week, a sign the job market isn't getting much better.
Applications ticked down by 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 404,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The four-week average declined for the third straight week to 408,000. That's the lowest average in eight weeks.
Still, applications are higher than they would be in a healthy economy. They need to fall consistently below 375,000 to signal sustainable job growth. They haven't been below that level since February.
The report suggests that layoffs have declined in recent weeks. But other data show hiring hasn't picked up.
Ellen Zentner, senior economist at Nomura Securities, said applications around 400,000 indicate a neutral job market, "one that's neither picking up, nor deteriorating."
Only a few weeks ago some had feared the risks of another recession had grown. So "even neutral readings are good," she said, because they signal that conditions aren't worsening.
Employers pulled back on hiring this spring, after rising gas prices cut into consumer spending and Japan's March 11 earthquake disrupted supply chains, which slowed U.S. auto production.
In recent months, gas prices have eased slightly and supply chains are flowing more freely. Yet hiring hasn't improved much. Employers have added an average of only 72,000 jobs in the past five months. That's far below the 125,000 per month needed to keep up with population growth. And it's down from an average of 180,000 in the first four months of this year.
In September, the economy generated 103,000 net jobs. That's enough to calm recession fears, but it is far from what is needed to lower the unemployment rate, which stayed at 9.1 percent for the third straight month.
Thursday's Labor Department report also showed that the number of people who are receiving unemployment benefits fell by 55,000 to 3.67 million. That's the lowest level since April.
That figure doesn't include several million additional people who are receiving benefits under extended programs put in place during the recession.
All told, 6.8 million people received unemployment benefits in the week ending Sept. 24, the latest data available.
Without more jobs and higher pay increases, consumers are likely to keep spending cautiously. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.
On Wednesday, the Labor Department said companies posted fewer jobs in August than the previous month, the first decline in four months. Economists said it was another sign that companies are reluctant to hire.
On a positive note, the turmoil didn't boost job cuts. Employers laid off 1.66 million people in August, the Labor Department's report said Wednesday. That's down from July and far below the peak during the recession of 2.5 million. -- (AP)
WASHINGTON — Five years after the housing bust, the U.S. economy is showing signs of finally bottoming out.
Americans are on the move again after putting their lives on hold and staying put. More young adults are leaving their parents’ homes to take a chance with college or the job market, while once-sharp declines in births are leveling off and poverty is slowing.
Even the stagnant housing market, still weak, is showing improvement as sales and construction begin to climb.
New 2011 census figures offer glimmers of hope in an economic recovery that technically began in mid-2009. The annual survey, supplemented with unpublished government figures as of March 2012, covers a year in which unemployment fell modestly from 9.6 percent to 8.9 percent.
Not all is well. The jobless rate remains high at 8.1 percent. While housing sales have more recently gained, home ownership last year dropped for a fifth straight year to 64.6 percent, the lowest in more than a decade, due to stringent financing rules and a shift to renting. More Americans than ever are turning to food stamps, while residents in housing that is considered “crowded” held steady at 1 percent, tied for the highest since 2003.
A fresh set of current economic data released Thursday also remained mixed. The Conference Board’s index of leading indicators, designed to forecast future economic activity, dipped 0.1 percent in August after rising 0.5 percent in July and dropping 0.5 percent in June. And the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell only slightly last week.
Taken as a whole, however, analysts say the census data, which track changing patterns in everyday life, provide the latest evidence of a stabilizing U.S. economy. Coming after the devastating housing bust in 2006, such a leveling off would mark an end to the longest and most pernicious economic decline since World War II.
“We may be seeing the beginning of the American family’s recovery from the Great Recession,” said Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University. He pointed in particular to the upswing in mobility and to young men moving out of their parents’ homes, both signs that more young adults were testing out job prospects.
“It could be the modest number of new jobs or simply the belief that the worst is over,” Cherlin said.
Richard Freeman, an economist at Harvard University, said the data point to a “fragile recovery,” with the economy still at risk of falling back into recession, depending in part on who is president and whether Congress averts a “fiscal cliff” of deep government spending cuts and higher taxes in January. “Given the situation in the world economy, we are doing better than many other countries,” he said. “Government policies remain critical.”
The census figures also show slowing growth in the foreign-born population, which increased to 40.4 million, or 13 percent of the U.S. population. Last year’s immigration increase of 400,000 people was the lowest in a decade, reflecting a minimal gain of Latinos after many Mexicans already in the U.S. opted to return home. Some 11 million people are estimated to be in the U.S. illegally.
The bulk of new immigrants are now higher-skilled workers from Asian countries such as China and India, contributing to increases in the foreign-born population in California, New York, Illinois and New Jersey.
Income inequality varied widely by region. The gap between rich and poor was most evident in the District of Columbia, New York, Connecticut, Louisiana and New Mexico, where immigrant or minority groups were more numerous. By county, Berkeley in West Virginia had the biggest jump in household income inequality over the past year, a result of fast suburban growth just outside the Washington–Baltimore region, where pockets of poor residents and newly arrived, affluent commuters live side by side.
As a whole, Americans were slowly finding ways to get back on the move. About 12 percent of the nation’s population, or 36.5 million, moved to a new home, up from a record low of 11.6 percent in 2011.
Among young adults 25 to 29, the most mobile age group, moves also increased to 24.6 percent from a low of 24.1 percent in the previous year. Longer-distance moves, typically for those seeking new careers in other regions of the country, rose modestly from 3.4 percent to 3.8 percent.
Less willing to rely on parents, roughly 5.6 million Americans ages 25–34, or 13.6 percent, lived with Mom and Dad, a decrease from 14.2 percent in the previous year. Young men were less likely than before to live with parents, down from 18.6 percent to 16.9 percent; young women living with parents edged higher to 10.4 percent, up from 9.7 percent.
The increases in mobility coincide with modest improvements in the job market as well as increased school enrollment, especially in college and at advanced-degree levels.
Marriages dipped to a low of just 50.8 percent among adults 18 and over, compared with 57 percent in 2000. Among young adults 25–34, marriage was at 43.1 percent, also a new low, part of a longer-term cultural trend in which people are opting to marry at later ages and often cohabitate with a partner first.
Births, on the other hand, appeared to be coming back after years of steep declines. In 2011, the number of births dipped by 55,000, or 1 percent, to 4.1 million, the smallest drop since the pre-recession peak in 2008, according to Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor and senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire. More recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also show that once-precipitous drops in births are slowing.
“There are signs that young adults have turned a corner,” said Mark Mather, associate vice president at the Population Reference Bureau. “More young adults are staying in school, which will increase their potential earnings when the job market bounces back. It’s going to take some time, but we should see more young adults entering the labor force, buying homes and starting families as economic conditions improve.”
While poverty slowed, food stamp use continued to climb. Roughly 14.9 million, or 13 percent of U.S. households, received food stamps, the highest level on record, meaning that 1 in 8 families was receiving the government aid. Oregon led the nation at 18.9 percent, or nearly 1 in 5, due in part to generous state provisions that expand food stamp eligibility to families making 185 percent of the poverty level — roughly $3,400 a month for a family of four. Oregon was followed by more rural or more economically hard-hit states, including Michigan, Tennessee, Maine, Kentucky and Mississippi. Wyoming had the fewest households on food stamps, at 5.9 percent.
Government programs did much to stave off higher rates of poverty. While the official poverty rate for 2011 remained stuck at 15 percent, or a record 46.2 million people, the government formula did not take into account noncash aid such as food stamps, which the Census Bureau estimates would have lifted 3.9 million people above the poverty line. If counted, that safety net would have lowered the poverty rate to 13.7 percent. And without expanded unemployment benefits, which began expiring in 2011, roughly 2.3 million people would have fallen into poverty.
Some 17 states showed statistically significant increases in the poverty rate, led by Louisiana, Oregon, Arizona, Georgia and Hawaii. Among large metropolitan areas, McAllen, Texas, led the nation in poverty, at 38 percent, followed by Fresno, Calif., El Paso, Texas, and Bakersfield, Calif. In contrast, the Washington, D.C., metro area had the lowest level of poverty, about 8 percent, followed by Bridgeport, Conn., and Ogden, Utah.
“There are signs among all these measures that the multiple downsides of the Great Recession have bottomed out, which is good news especially for young people who have seen their lives put on hold,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution. “There is some light at the end of the tunnel.” — (AP)
President Obama remains popular among voters, but a sluggish economy remains the biggest challenge in his bid for a second term, according to a new poll.
A new Associated Press-Gfk poll shows that Americans are growing more pessimistic about the economy and the president’s handling of it.
The pessimistic outlook extends across party lines, including a steep decline in the share of Democrats who call the economy “good’ down from 48 percent in February to just 31 percent now.
On his handling of the economy, 52 percent disapprove while 46 percent approve. In February, Americans were about evenly divided on the issue.
The economy is the top issue in the presidential race, despite a number of social issues that have recently dominated media coverage including access to contraception, abortion and whether or not stay-at-home mothers represent working women.
The economy will probably remain the top concern even after the president’s recent announcement that he supports same-sex marriages.
The president’s public support of same-sex marriage may be historic but it will not become the most important issue among voters, with the possible exception of some staunch social conservatives and gay rights advocates.
It addition to overshadowing controversial social issues, the economy will be a bigger concern among voters than Obama’s race or Mitt Romney’s religion.
This should not be a surprise.
The economy is usually a top issue among voters in the presidential race. Presidents often win or lose elections based on well the economy is doing at the time of the election. This year it is especially important considering the nation is still recovering from the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
President Obama will have to convince the American public that his economic policies are best for the country. He needs to explain how the economic-stimulus program and the bailout of the auto industry helped rescue the economy from disaster.
The president has accomplished a great deal in his first term in office including ending the war in Iraq and passage of the Affordable Care Act to increase health care coverage. But he still must convince the majority of voters that the country is on the right track on the economy.