3/9: Is Good, Good Enough?

By Barbara Carvalho

The release of the latest national job numbers has been met with cautious optimism from those waiting for momentum in the economic recovery.  Boosted by a jump in private sector hiring, unemployment has fallen below 9% for the first time in memory.  Is it possible these new numbers represent an end to what has been largely a jobless recovery so far?

Although “growth” has replaced “decline” in the economist’s lexicon, you don’t have to be a student of Tom Lehrer’s new math to see that the numbers don’t yet exactly add up to a healthy economy.  First, nearly 14 million Americans are actively, but unsuccessfully, seeking work.  That’s still way too high.

Second, when you include people working part-time and those thought to be so discouraged to have stopped looking for work, the unemployment rate is still hovering around 16%.  No wonder it doesn’t feel like the nation has sufficiently clawed its way out of the economic slump.

Finally, if you include a variety of reasons for Americans staying on the work force side lines, overall, less than two-thirds of adults are considered to be in the work force.  Bottom line: you aren’t counted as unemployed if you aren’t in the work force.  Anyway you tally the equation, this represents the lowest worker participation rate in more than two decades.

Marist Poll trend data in recent months has shown that the recession remains a reality in the minds of most Americans although there has been a drop in the percentage who thinks so.  Also, a majority believe that the worst for the economy is now behind us.  To the degree that momentum counts in decisions about hiring and spending, the hope for continued improvement in the economy is there.  So, is the view that we still have a long way to go.