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Robert Reich

Jobs report: Obama's sigh of relief

Better-than-expected employment numbers from September's jobs report was a relief for the White House, Reich writes. But the economy is still growing too slowly.

By / October 5, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally in Fairfax, Va., Friday. Despite good numbers for September, the economy is still crawling out of the deep crater it fell into in 2008 and 2009, Reich writes.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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The White House is breathing easier this morning. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent – the first time it’s been under 8 percent in 43 months.

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Robert is chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Clinton. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including “The Work of Nations,” his latest best-seller “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future," and a new e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His new movie, "Inequality for All," is available on Netflix. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

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In political terms, headlines are everything – and most major media are leading with the drop in the unemployment rate.

Look more closely, though, and the picture is murkier. According to the separate payroll survey undertaken by the BLS, just 114,000 new jobs were added in September. At least 125,000 are needed per month just to keep up with population growth. Yet August’s job number was revised upward to 142,000, and July’s to 181,000. 

In other words, we’re still crawling out of the deep crater we fell into in 2008 and 2009. The percent of the working-age population now working or actively looking for work is higher than it was, but still near a thirty-year low.

But at least we’re crawling out.

Romney says we’re not doing well enough, and he’s right. But the prescriptions he’s offering – more tax cuts for the rich and for big companies – won’t do anything except enlarge the budget deficit. And the cuts he proposes in public investments like education and infrastructure, and safety nets like Medicare and Medicaid, will take money out of the pockets of people who not only desperately need it but whose spending is necessary to keep the tepid recovery going.

Romney promises if elected the economy will create 12 million new jobs in his first term. If we were back in a normal economy, that number wouldn’t be hard to reach. Bill Clinton presided over an economy that generated 22 million new jobs in eight years – and that was more than a decade ago when the economy and working-age population were smaller than now.

Both Obama and Romney assume the recovery will continue, even at a slow pace, and that we’ll be back to normal at some point. But I’m not at all sure. “Normal” is what got us into this mess in the first place. The concentration of income and wealth at the top has robbed the vast middle class of the purchasing power it needs to generate a full recovery – something that was masked by borrowing against rising home values, but can no longer be denied. Unless or until this structural problem is dealt with, we won’t be back to normal. 

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. This post originally ran on www.robertreich.org.

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