Employment Is Likely to Improve – Morale Improves When the Beatings Stop

Recovery from the employment losses suffered in the Great Recession (worker’s depression?) of 2007-2009 has been excruciatingly slow.  As I write this post in November 2013, total employment in the U.S. is still more than 1% fewer jobs than when we started this mess 5 years and 10 months ago. That’s 976,000 jobs still missing when compared to 6 years ago. Bill McBride at CalculatedRisk has been tracking this slow recovery of employment and compares it to previous (post-WWII) recessions in this graph.  Typically, we recover from a recession and re-gain the lost jobs in two years or less (2001 is the only other exception).  

Percent Job Losses in Post WWII Recessions

There are several reasons why this recovery has been so slow compared to others. The losses were deeper than the others, a financial crisis recovers slower, and households were deeply in debt which slowed recovery in spending.  But government policy is one of the most significant causes of the slow recovery.  

One of the lessons of all those earlier fast-recovery recessions is that counter-cyclical fiscal policy and automatic stabilizers work.  Yes, there are technical problems in implementing discretionary fiscal policy such as how big, when to do it, and whether to use tax- vs. spending-based policy changes. But it works -especially when the economy has a lot of slack and the recession is deep and severe.

The concept is actually very simple – if consumption spending (C) and investment spending (I) are declining, then the government needs to step in and increase its economic stimulus either by spending more and reducing taxes on those who spend.

Another lesson of those earlier recessions is that automatic stabilizers work very, very well.  Automatic stabilizers are programs like unemployment compensation, SNAP and welfare assistance, and the progressive income tax system.  The problem is that counter-cyclical fiscal policy is largely the responsibility of the national government since only the national government has the freedom to run large deficits when it’s needed.  State and local governments are constrained to run balanced budgets every year and they don’t have the sovereign power of the currency like the national government.

State and Local Government Payroll Employment

This requirement of state and local governments to always run balanced budgets means that state and local governments make recessions worse and recoveries slower. Instead of being counter-cyclical, state and local governments are pro-cyclical.  Again, Bill McBride of CalculatedRisk helps us visualize how state and local governments helped make the recovery slower.

In earlier recessions the national government would step up and offer stimulus to both offset the declines in private spending and private demand, but help fund state and local government to prevent state and local government layoffs.  That didn’t happen this time.  The national government stimulus was too small for too short of time. What’s worse, the national obsession with the deficit has led to premature austerity policies at the national level.  The result was state and local governments, instead of helping the economy recover, were effectively beating the economy for not being more robust.

The good news, though, is that state and local governments appear to finally be done beating the economy into submission.  State and local austerity is coming to an end according to the data. As McBride notes, state and local government employment rose by 74,000 in October 2013.

If this continues and state and local governments are starting to hire teachers, firefighters, and police instead of laying them off, then we will likely come closer to finally recovering all the job losses from the recession by spring 2014 instead of spring 2015.  Not surprisingly, once the beatings stop, morale actually improves.

A Journey of 100 Months Starts With the First Month

Finally we are getting some good news. At least most people will consider it good news. Republican Presidential candidates hoping to run against Obama on “weak economy platform” might not happy with the news.

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the January 2012 employment data.   The unemployment rate has declined again. It is now down to 8.3%.  The number of net new jobs was pleasantly above the consensus expectations.  Calculated Risk quotes the BLS for us:

From the BLS:

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 243,000 in January, and the unemployment rate decreased to 8.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job growth was widespread in the private sector, with large employment gains in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing. Government employment changed little over the month. … Private-sector employment grew by 257,000 …

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for November was revised from +100,000 to +157,000, and the change for December was revised from +200,000 to +203,000..

So what accounts for the increase?  As the BLS states, large gains were widespread – services, hospitality/leisure, and manufacturing. But overall positive effect compared to what was expected and to what we’ve grown accustomed is strongly due to two factors we didn’t see.  We didn’t see reductions in government employment dragging down the total numbers. I’ll have another post on that later today.  The other effect is that the weather was nice – the exact opposite of last January (2011) when the weather adversely affected the numbers.

Nonetheless, a solid increase is a solid increase and something to feel good about.  But in keeping with my skeptical self, it’s also very important to not declare victory yet. We’re not out of the woods by a long shot.  I can think of four reasons right away.

First, we’ve been here before.  As Calculated Risk explains,

Job growth started picking up early last year, but then the economy was hit by a series of shocks (oil price increase, tsunami in Japan, debt ceiling debate) – and now it appears job growth is picking up again.

Payroll jobs added per monthClick on graph for larger image.

This is the third or fourth time in this “recovery” that it appeared employment would finally be accelerating into the kind of “V-shaped” recovery we really need.  Each time before, something (often politics) interfered.

A second reason for caution involves both the employment-population ratio and the labor-force-participation rate.  Both rates are at lows we haven’t seen for 30 some years.  Both ratios indicate that large numbers of people have left the labor force and simply aren’t looking for work.  If they change their minds and start to look for work, then the unemployment rate could easily begin rising again as the denominator of the unemployment rate rises faster than employment (the numerator).

A third reason is that there are still too many unknowns on the horizon and most of them carry downside risk.  The UK and the Eurozone continue their self-inflicted austerity march into recession and flirtation with banking and default crises. House prices have continued to decline, threatening the ability of households to sustain increases in consumer spending. And there’s always the completely unknown.  Twelve months ago nobody would have considered the risk to economic growth from an earthquake that created a nuclear disaster.

The fourth reason to be cautious is the mismatch between the positive increase in employment we’ve just seen and the size of the employment gap we are facing.  This is the graph we need to keep in mind.  Again from Calculated Risk:

Percent Job Losses During Recessions

… third graph shows the job losses from the start of the employment recession, in percentage terms. The dotted line is ex-Census hiring.

This shows the depth of the recent employment recession – much worst than any other post-war recession – and the relatively slow recovery due to the lingering effects of the housing bust and financial crisis.

We are far, far from leaving this employment depression behind.  Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy and Research cautioned today that, while it appears that we are on stronger path, it is still too weak.  January’s numbers seem strong only because we have grown accustomed to such abysmal recovery for the last 2-3 years.  Even at the pace January showed, it will still be 2020 before we regain full employment.  That’s 8 years away – 100 months.  Government and central banks easily lose focus on growth in a period that long.  Congress and the President, while returning to jobs now in this election season, have already shown that they couldn’t sustain a focus on job growth last year as they turned to imaginary concerns over government debt instead.

We have a long way to go.  We should be running but we’re only walking. Nonetheless, at least we’re walking forward now instead of backwards they way we were in mid-2011.

The Problem in One Graph

Yesterday I said I was reluctant to get over-optimistic about the recent slight upturn in employment data. This year may truly be different from the last few, but there’s a nagging feeling that we’ve seen this movie before. I’m not alone in the feeling. As 2012 dawns, Tim Duy summarizes the problem in one graph (emphasis is mine):

I have been hesitant to embrace the recent positive data flow – once bitten, twice shy perhaps.  Something about the current dynamics that seems a little too familiar.  Indeed, I felt something of relief when FT Alphaville came to a similar conclusion in the waning days of 2011.  Cardiff Garcia reports on a Nomura research note that details a new bias in the seasonal adjustment process, noting:

Up next, writes Nomura, you can expect exaggeratedly strong readings from the Chicago PMI later this month and the next ISM manufacturing survey at the start of January.

I imagine it is premature to call the readings “exaggerated,” but both did surprise on the upside, as much data has of late.  Read the whole piece – it is worth the time.

Indeed, flirtations with either excessive optimism or excessive pessimism were not richly rewarded last year, as on average the economy simply edged upward in pretty unremarkable fashion:

It seems reasonable to expect the same in 2012, at least as a baseline – a slow “recovery” that is really more of an adjustment to what appears to be the economy’s new equilibrium path, one that is decisively subpar to the pre-recession trend.  I don’t believe that such an adjustment is necessary, as in my view it simply reflects a shortfall of aggregate demand.  That said, the longer the cyclical downturn grinds on, the more likely it is that we will indeed see a new equilibrium path.  A greater percentage of the cyclical unemployment will become structural unemployment or permanent shifts in the labor force participation rate.  In addition, investments will go unmade as firms hoard cash.  And, increasingly, policymakers will manage policy along the new equilibrium path, forgetting entirely the pre-recession path.

The gap in the above graph, the gap between the green trend line of what we’re capable of doing and the blue-red trend from Jan 2009 onward of we’re actually doing is the challenge.  We are slowly becoming an economy that simply cut-off 7% or so of our economy in 2008 and we aren’t recovering it.  Instead it increasingly appears that the 90-93% of the economy that survived, those of us still with good jobs, are simply going on our way leaving behind those who lost out a few years ago.

There are over 13 million unemployed workers. Over 5.6 million of them have been searching fruitlessly for a new job for more than 6 months.  These are the people who got kicked off the American economy bus some time ago.  Unfortunately, even at the recently improved rate of 150-200,000 new jobs per month, there won’t be any room on the bus for them again.  Instead, the bus is moving on and they are left behind.

This is new. This is not the normal pattern. In past recessions, public policy, both fiscal and monetary, was managed to restore full employment rapidly after a recession.  It didn’t always succeed but the effort was made.  Now it is not. Now we focus more on long-term debt issues and spending concerns.  Politicians run on platforms of fear of some future default or financial crisis. This despite the fact that the government is able to borrow at record low rates of interest.

We are on path to a “new normal”, a “normal” that says it’s OK to have millions of long-term unemployed who have no hope.  I don’t think I like the “new normal”.


Setting the Bar Very Low: The Unemployment Report for December 2011

Well I’m back.  Yes, it’s been a longer than expected break from blogging driven by work considerations, but contrary to the rumors, I have not been “doomed”.  So it’s on to a new semester and a new resolution to post frequently. I hope 3-5 times per week.

To start things off, yesterday was the first Friday of the month which means, of course, the monthly report on employment, jobs, and the unemployment rate.  I’ll let Calculated Risk report the news and graph first:

December Employment Report: 200,000 Jobs, 8.5% Unemployment Rate

There were 200,000 payroll jobs added in December. This included 212,000 private sector jobs added, and 12,000 government jobs lost.

The following graph shows the employment population ratio, the participation rate, and the unemployment rate.

Employment Pop Ratio, participation and unemployment ratesClick on graph for larger image.

The unemployment rate declined to 8.5% (red line).

The Labor Force Participation Rate was unchanged 64.0% in December (blue line). This is the percentage of the working age population in the labor force.

The Employment-Population ratio was unchanged at 58.5% in December (black line).

The good news then is that trend indicates we are creating net more jobs in the last few months than we have been doing for several years.  An unemployment rate of 8.5% is definitely a lot better than the 10% we had in 2009. And, the rate is coming down.  But we shouldn’t get too excited nor should politicians think  their work is done.  First off, although this is the strongest 3 month improvement in the rate we’ve seen since the start of the recession back in 2007, we have seen similar short trends of improvement that fizzle out. It’s always possible as some analysts have observed that the November-December numbers were driven by a surge in temporary hiring in the online retailing sector.  It’s possible that we’re only seeing  a temporary strengthening and that January and February will see a return to same stagnation we saw last summer.

Second, it’s always possible that Congress will do something incredibly stupid that dramatically cuts employment and aggregate demand immediately. A third, very serious risk is that Europe will continue to slide into government austerity-induced recession and possibly trigger a global financial crisis with the Euro.  A European slide will adversely affect our exports and depending on how severe it is, possibly reduce employment in U.S. exporting industries.  A Euro financial crisis would likely ripple back to big U.S. banks who could in turn cause problems here.

But the biggest reason that we shouldn’t be satisfied with these numbers is simple. This isn’t enough! An improvement of 200,000 net new jobs might be acceptable if we were already at full employment, but we’re not. We need to grow faster so we can put the millions of unemployed back to work.  Again back to Calculated Risk:

Percent Job Losses During RecessionsThis graph shows the job losses from the start of the employment recession, in percentage terms aligned at maximum job losses.

This is the worst post WWII employment recession. However, as bad as this is, the Great Depression would be way off the chart. At the worst, employment fell a little over 6% during the recent employment recession – although the data is a little uncertain – employment probably fell by around 22% during the Great Depression.

Calculated Risk makes the point that the past few years haven’t been as severe as the Great Depression.  That’s true in the sense of how deep or severe the crisis has been.  But in terms of length, how long we go without full employment, we are clearly on a path to making this on par with the Great Depression.  The Great Depression in employment was essentially 11 years long.  Unemployment started rising in late 1929. It never fully recovered until the war spending took off in a big way in 1940-41. That’s eleven years. The current recession/depression/inadequate recovery started in late 2007. It’s at least 4 years old already.  The current pace of jobs addition puts us another 3 or so years until we recover all the jobs we lost.   So that’s a total of 7 plus years.

But as Paul Krugman points out, the population and labor force has been growing during the last 4 years.  To really reach full employment we need even more.

Let me give two back-of-the-envelope ways to think about how inadequate 200,000 jobs a month is.

First, note that there are still about 6 million fewer jobs than there were at the end of 2007 — and that we would normally have expected to have added around 5 million jobs over a four-year period. So we’re 11 million jobs down — and we need at least 100,000 jobs a month just to keep up with working-age population growth. Do the math, and you’ll see that it would take 9 or 10 years of growth at this rate to restore full employment.

Alternatively, note that during the Clinton years — all 8 of them — the economy added around 230,000 jobs a month. As it did that, the unemployment rate fell about 3 1/2 percentage points — which is about what we’d need from here to get back to something that felt like full employment. Again, this suggests that we’re looking at something like a decade-long haul to have full recovery.

So yes, this is better news than we’ve been having. But it’s still vastly inadequate.

So, yes I’m encouraged by the recent employment reports, but not very much.  I still hold to my position that when all is done and we look back on this period we’ll be referring to it as some sort of depression, not a “Great” one, but some sort of depression.

Rick Snyder Advocates Government Planning to Fix the Labor Market

In recent posts here, here, and here, I’ve been discussing structural vs. cyclical unemployment.  In particular I’ve observed how those who are opposed to government stimulus efforts, either broad-based tax cuts or spending, are desperate to assert that our unemployment is a structural problem and not cyclical.  Yesterday’s post about a story in the Wall Street Journal was one example.  But here in my home state of Michigan, our Governor Rick Snyder has been saying much the same thing.  Since Governor Snyder’s previous claims that the magic jobs genie would create jobs from budget cuts have not worked, he really wants to join the “it’s all structural” brigade.  So last week Snyder announced:

Michigan needs to do better training people for in-demand jobs, and matching skilled workers with potential employers, Gov. Rick Snyder said…

“Today, too few workers have the skills needed to meet the demands of employers in the new economy,” Snyder said, according to an advance copy of his message. “Despite an unemployment rate of 10.6 percent, thousands of jobs remain unfilled in Michigan.”

Snyder said state companies say there is a “talent disconnect,” with baby boomer retirements leading to a loss of skilled workers and increasingly technology-driven economy requires advanced skills that many of our workers do not have.

“Today, talent has surpassed other resources as the driver of economic growth,” he said. “Times have been tough in Michigan. We have failed to think strategically about the relationship between economic development and talent. Job creators are finding it challenging to grow and develop without the right talent and job seekers are struggling to connect with the right opportunities that leverage their skills.”

Among the proposals is a new website, Pure Michigan Talent Connect – MiTalent.org – will feature tools for job-seekers and employers to identify labor trends and help people assess their skills, look for the training they need and connect with mentors.

The site is being launched in phases through June 2012. The first phase, features the “Career Matchmaker” and the “Career Investment Calculator.”

Partnering with public colleges and universities to provide a post-secondary education that is marketable and transferable. Snyder noted that the Center for Michigan concluded that colleges graduated 20 percent too few computer and math professionals, 14 percent too few health care professionals, and 3 percent too few engineers in 2009-2010.

“We need to stop overproducing in areas where there is little or no occupational demand and encourage students and educational institutions to invest in programs where the market is demanding a greater investment in talent,” Snyder said. “The current imbalance creates a population of young talent that cannot find work in Michigan, is saddled with debt and is ultimately forced to leave the state. This is an outcome we cannot afford.”…

“The simple truth is that tomorrow’s opportunities cannot be realized with yesterday’s skills,” he said. “The challenge we face is to align the aptitudes and career passions of job seekers with the current and evolving needs of employers. The solution is to reinvent the way in which we prepare our children for successful, fulfilling careers; reshape the manner in which Michiganders look for work; and redesign the way in which employers obtain the skills they need.”

Basically, Snyder is now asserting that Michigan’s high unemployment rate is primarily structural – it has nothing to do with Snyder’s jobs cuts and spending cuts in the state or with the present contractionary federal fiscal policy.  Instead he blames the unemployed – they have the wrong skills and the wrong education.  What’s particularly interesting here is that normally Snyder, like most Republican governors, is very pro “free market” and “private sector”.  But apparently the free market and the private sector haven’t performed well in the labor market according to Snyder.  Snyder seems to be saying we need government planning and direction to tell people what skills and education to get.  Apparently Snyder also doesn’t think private employment agencies or employers do a very good job of identifying trends or make connections.

I think the problem is not that Michiganders don’t know the right way to look for work.  There simply aren’t enough jobs at reasonable wages when they look.  It seems strange to hear calls for such fancy government economic planning coming from a so-called advocate of free markets and the private sector.  But when you’re desperate to justify spending cuts instead of stimulus, I guess that’s what you say.

Below Market Wages Belies Claims of Structural Unemployment

Continuing what has turned into a short series on unemployment and structural unemployment in particular (see Monday and yesterday’s posts), let us look at some of the claims that structural unemployment.

First up, Brad Delong points us to Kevin Drum who tells the following story:

Kevin Drum:

Skilled Jobs Go Begging? Not Quite: The Wall Street Journal has a piece up this weekend about the difficulty that many companies are having hiring skilled workers in certain areas…. Here’s a description of some skilled job openings at Union Pacific railroad:

When the railroad had openings for diesel electricians earlier this year, it took [Ferrie] Bailey 10 hiring sessions to fill 24 jobs….Known as “installation technicians,” the workers are responsible for putting in and maintaining a sprawling network of cable, microwave relays and related equipment that enables the railroad to monitor 850 trains running daily along its 32,000 miles of track.

This doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree but demands technical skills gained either through an associates’ degree or four years of experience in electronics. And it is grueling work. Technicians have to climb 50-foot communications towers, clamber up utility poles and work outdoors through Wyoming winters and Kansas summers. They put in 10-hour days, in clusters of eight or ten days, and are routinely away from home more than half of each month.

….Standing at the front of the room, Ms. Bailey described the deal. As installation technicians, they would earn $21.64 an hour, or close to $48,000 a year for the railroad’s regular work schedule.

Then there’s this:

After a website job posting, Ms. Bailey initially drew 58 applicants. Of them, she deemed about two dozen sufficiently qualified so that she invited them to take a $25 aptitude test, at their own expense.

Let me get this straight. Union Pacific is supposedly desperate for candidates and can barely fill all their open positions. And yet, when they identify 24 qualified applicants, they aren’t even willing to maximize their hiring pool by ponying up $600 to make sure they all take the aptitude test. Then, later in the story, there’s this:

Ms. Bailey faced more stiff competition at a job fair the next day, because then she was up against several other employers looking for the same sort skilled people as she was. “Make $70,000 – $80,000 the first year with FULL BENEFITS,” read a sign at a booth right across from Ms. Bailey’s at the job fair, put on by the U.S. Army in Fort Carson, Colo., largely to help departing soldiers ease back to civilian life.

So here’s the story. Union Pacific is offering $48,000 per year for skilled, highly specialized, journeyman work that’s physically grueling and requires workers to be away from home about half of each month. The competition is offering 50% more, but not only is UP not willing to increase their starting wage, they’re so certain they can fill all their positions that they make qualified candidates pay for their own aptitude test. And despite all this, they filled all 24 of their positions in ten hiring sessions.

It doesn’t sound to me like there’s a huge shortage of qualified workers here. It sounds to me like Union Pacific is whining about the fact that it took them all of ten hiring sessions to fill their quota even though this is a really tough job and they aren’t paying market rates for workers. It’s as if they think that actually having to make a modest effort to attract job candidates is an inversion of the natural order or something. Speaking for myself, I think I’ll hold off on breaking out the violins.

Kevin has done an excellent job of taking the structural claims apart, but I’ll pile on anyway.  The claim that unemployment is structural is a claim that the labor market is segmented into different labor markets for jobs with different skills.  Further it asserts that there is no elasticity of supply between these different labor markets – in other words, if either have the skills or you don’t, there’s no on-the-job training or adaptable skills possible.  Finally, if unemployment is structural then we are saying that there’s a shortage (lack of supply) of workers in that skill category in that geographic area.  The Wall Street Journal is claiming that because Union Pacific cannot find enough willing sellers (workers) at the price (wage) Union Pacific is offering then there must be a shortage of qualified sellers.  Umm, how do I put this?  No.  Rather it’s evidence that the Union Pacific simply wants to pay below-market prices to labor.  That’s all.  Saying this is evidence of structural unemployment is like me claiming there’s a structural supply shortage of new automobiles because no dealer will sell me a new Porsche for $15,000.


Fixes for Unemployment Depend on Whether It’s Cyclical (It Is) or Structural (It Isn’t)

Yesterday I recapped the November employment report. The employment picture remains grim.  The workers depression continues.

As my favorite graph from Calculated Risk shows here, regardless of what happens to the unemployment rate, our recovery from the jobs lost in the recession is incredibly slow.  At the pace we have been on for the last 2-3 years, we won’t recover the jobs lost in the recession until around 2018 – a full lost decade.

Thanks partly to the #OccupyWallStreet movement, these 14 million unemployed aren’t so invisible as they seemed last summer when the policy debates were all about debt and deficits.  Since denial of a problem has failed, folks who argue against any attempts by the government to stimulate the economy need a different pitch.

That revised pitch is that the unemployment problem is “structural”, not “cyclical”.  Now before I move on to show the problem is not structural, let me explain the difference. I’ve looked at structural vs. cyclical before here and here, but I’ll summarize.  In economist-talk, “unemployed” means you are part of the labor force but you don’t have a job.  To be part of the labor force, you must be actively looking (“willing and able”) to work.  Those numbers come from government surveys. Economists unofficially classify those unemployed workers according to why they don’t have a  job.  There’s four possibilities:

  1. Frictional – there’s a job for them, they simply haven’t been matched with it yet.
  2. Seasonal – the job will exist again next year when the season is right (think downhill ski instructors in July)
  3. Structural – empty jobs exist but the unemployed workers either don’t have the right skills or aren’t in the right location.  Train the workers or move them and unemployment disappears.
  4. Cyclical – there simply aren’t enough empty jobs for the number of unemployed workers.  If the GDP were larger and spending greater, then jobs would be created and the people put back to work.

For policy reasons we aren’t concerned with frictional or seasonal. Time cures those individual unemployment situations. But if we only had frictional or seasonal unemployment, our unemployment rate would be much, much lower – 4% or even lower.  Clearly we have either have a lot of structural or cyclical or both.

Which we have matters for policy reasons. If unemployment is structural, then we can effectively blame the unemployed for their fate.  They didn’t get the right skills. They chose to live in the wrong place. From a policy standpoint, the government might adopt policies that support re-training but that’s about it.   If, however, unemployment is cyclical, then government has plenty of room to reduce unemployment through stimulus programs, either effective tax cuts and/or increased government direct spending.

Brad Delong points us to David Wessel of The Wall Street Journal who tells us how and why today’s high unemployment is not structural. In other words, we could bring down the unemployment very dramatically and very quickly if we chose to.  Politicians in Washington simply choose not to do so. (bold emphases are mine)


Untangling Long-Term Unemployment: Herman Cain, the Republican presidential candidate, avoids carefully calibrated talking points. “If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself,” he said in a Wall Street Journal interview.

Beneath Mr. Cain’s blunt words lurks an economic hypothesis: that there’s nothing much government policy can do to bring unemployment down from today’s 9.1% rate…. [I]f the unemployed aren’t willing or able to fill jobs that muscular stimulus might produce then there’s little wisdom in borrowing more money or chancing inflation. We just have to suck it up.

But according to Fed governor Daniel Tarullo, a veteran of the Clinton White House and Obama presidential campaign who has spent the past few months consulting with Fed and other labor economists for a speech on the job market he is to deliver Thursday at Columbia University, there is little evidence that the bulk of today’s unemployed would still be unemployed if the economy were growing faster or that the bulk of today’s unemployment is, in the jargon of economists, “structural.”…

The Labor Department counts 14 million unemployed and 3.1 million job openings, or 4.6 jobless workers per job opening. Before the recession, the ratio was 1.5. If every opening were filled instantly, there would still be many unemployed.

Wages aren’t rising. “We don’t see rapid wage growth almost anywhere, which is what you would expect if firms were bidding up the wages of qualified workers and were unable to find qualified workers among the unemployed,” said Harvard University’s Lawrence Katz.

Unemployment is up across ages, occupations, industries and years of schooling. “We had a fast-advancing economic decline with layoffs and hiring freezes in a broad range of sectors of the economy. That is not consistent with an increase in structural unemployment being the big explanation,” Mr. Tarullo said…