The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced today that the nation’s unemployment rate has fallen to 7.8 percent, the lowest since January 2009. And unlike many/most of the monthly BLS reports in recent years that showed a drop in the overall rate along with several mitigating factors (a decline in the participation rate, for example) this report appears to be good news across the board, or nearly so.*
The bad news is that 7.8 percent is still really high. We have a long way to go before anyone should be happy about the jobs situation.
When the new number came out this morning, nearly every liberal I follow on Twitter, and many of the journalists, made the same political point: There goes the Republicans “X consecutive months of 8 percent unemployment” talking point. That’s an unsurprising reaction; Mitt Romney and Republicans have been using that line a lot, and the new number does step on it, even though “X months of 7.5 percent unemployment” is pretty bad, too.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure I have been talking about “consecutive months of 8 percent unemployment” longer than Mitt Romney and the Republicans. That’s because 8 percent unemployment is really high, and we had it for a really long time. Here’s a November 2010 post in which I noted that economists expected we’d have 46 consecutive months of at least 8 percent unemployment by election day 2012 -- more than the total number of months above 8 between 1948 and 2008. Here’s a follow-up a couple of weeks later, about the political and media establishment paying insufficient attention to this unemployment crisis. The key passage:
It is insane, but it is not surprising. The rapid acceptance by the political/media class of extraordinary circumstances is one of the key developments of the past ten years. Remember when people only seemed to talk about the two wars we were fighting when they wanted to send more people to fight in them? How the media had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to cover evidence that one of those wars was based on a series of lies? Remember how each new aspect of the Bush administration’s expansion of executive power -- complete with warrantless wiretapping of Americans, indefinite detention, torture, etc -- got an initial flurry of attention, then everyone just kind of moved on? One of the defining characteristics of the past decade has been the tendency of both pols and journalists to pay scant attention to things that should be huge stories. We’re fighting simultaneous wars? We torture people? Spy on Americans without court permission? Eh. That’s just how things are now.The unemployment situation has been really, really awful for a really, really long time. People don’t like to admit it when their preferred political party controls the White House, but it’s true. I’m glad Republicans finally started talking about it, even if they were motivated by politics rather than sincere interest in helping create jobs. Democrats should’ve been talking about it, too. The problem isn’t the GOP’s talking point. The problem is the Republicans deserve a massive amount of the blame for creating the lousy economic situation in the first place, did everything they could to thwart efforts to fix it in the second place, and, if given the chance, will screw things up again in the third place.
So it really isn’t surprising that a catastrophically bad economy has been accepted as the new normal, too.
If the economic forecasts are right, we’re going to have more months of the unemployment rate higher than 8 percent (and 9 percent) in four years than we did in the previous 61. From 1948-1968, a 7 percent unemployment rate was pretty bad -- it happened in less than 20 percent of those 732 months. Now we’re looking at four consecutive years above 8 percent unemployment; nearly three straight above 9. And it often seems politicians and the media would rather focus on anything else.
The unemployment situation has been really, really awful for a really, really long time. It’s still awful. And that’s only one of the ways our economy is fundamentally broken for most people who don’t have the good fortune to be quarter-billionaires who overcame the hardships of being the son of a wealthy industrialist governor, like Mitt Romney. You should blame, mock, vote against, and generally feel contempt for Mitt Romney and the Republicans, because they’ll make things worse so they can make life marginally easier for millionaires who already have it so good they won’t even notice. But don’t blame them for talking about high unemployment. Everyone should have been doing that all along.
* I’m not an economist. Please don’t rely on me for serious economic analysis.