As the early August debt-ceiling deadline looms, the release of two dismal economic reports can only fan the flames of partisan debate. Both the BLS and the U.S. Department of Commerce release data that points to yet another economic slowdown. The increase in the unemployment rate, the widespread shedding of government jobs, and the increase in retail inventories—specifically automobile inventories—promise to add new flavor to Washington’s raging budget debate.
In their June jobs Report, the BLS indicated that the United States non-farm unemployment rate increased from 9.1% in May to 9.2% in June. This 0.1% increase represented the third consecutive month of rising unemployment and can be blamed primarily on the creation of a meager 18,000 jobs. To better understand the economic and political implications of this increase we should take a more focused look at the BLS numbers.
More interesting than the straightforward increase in unemployment is how these numbers varied over different sectors of the economy and segments of the population. The number of people unemployed for less than five weeks increased by an astonishing 412,000, while the number of people jobless for more than 27 weeks increased by 89,000 people. Both of these numbers indicate that employers have stopped hiring. In June, many more people were being laid off, and even fewer were getting rehired.
The most dismal sign is an overall drop in the percentage of people working. According to the report, the percentage of the population working or looking for work decreased from 58.4% in May to 58.2% in June. A true measure of the number of jobs available, this overall decline in people working shows a truly stagnant economy.
Public workers seemed to suffer the most from the economic slowdown as various federal, state and local government agencies combined to cut 39,000 jobs. A result of widespread efforts to balance state and local budgets, the loss of government jobs promises to become a big issue in the ongoing debate over federal budget deficit. With Republicans and Democrats fighting to save trillions in revenue, policymakers must wonder if further cuts to government programs is really a good thing for a stumbling economic recovery.