Full time jobs are hard to come by and many people have stopped working all together. Feeble economic growth is imposing hardships on people of all ages.
Millions of people may never work again.
Here are three charts that dramatically demonstrate our jobs problem. The first shows that the percentage of the population working in full-time jobs is at its lowest levels since the 1950s. In 2007, just as the housing bubble was bursting, more than 52% of the adult population had a full time job. By 2009, six million of those jobs were gone – and we have not gained any of them back during the economic “recovery” that began in 2009. Just 47% of the adult population had a full time job in February of 2013.
What are those six million people without full time work doing? The next chart shows there has been an increase of about 400,000 part time jobs since the recession ended. The next chart shows that the drop in the unemployment rate is largely the result of people leaving the workforce. In 2007, before Bear Stearns collapsed and started the financial crisis, 66% of the working-age population was employed or seeking employment. Today, just five years later, a little over 63% of that group of people is in the labor force and the trend line is almost straight down – about five million people have retired prematurely, work entirely in the underground economy, live at home with mom and dad and watch television, became homeless, or do chores at home while a partner works.
This is frightening, because we know that most of these individuals will never work again, or at least not in regular, full-time jobs. I remember the fear I felt in 2009 and 2010 that if I, as a worker over the age of 55, lost my job, I might never find a steady job again – I would be left to wander on the fringe of society. Keep in mind how much a person’s sense of self-worth, pride, and energy is wrapped up in feeling like a useful, paid participant in society. At least five million Americans don’t feel that way anymore.
So far, theirs is a quiet desperation. Since the late 1960s, women have been entering the labor force in large numbers. Note on the last chart how the labor participation rate rose steadily after 1966, from 59% to a high of 67% in 2000. That means two-thirds of households used to have two wage earners and the five million lost Americans are, in most cases, being supported by other members of the household and by programs like food stamps. In fact, food stamp participation has soared from 28,223,000 in 2008 to 47,791,996 in December of 2012.
Tragically, the sequestration budget cuts will chop away at some of the public supports for these families. The general attitude toward these individuals now on the fringe is similar to that of the Lawrence mill owner talking about the immigrants who worked 14 hour days in his textile factories, “they don’t suffer, they can’t even speak English.”