I’m pretty sure everyone reading this has experienced a bad hangover after a night of too much partying. You wake up with an oversized cotton ball in your mouth, your head is ringing like a fire bell, you have strange cravings for McDonald’s French fries and you can’t seem to move faster than a poorly fed snail. You want to kick yourself. Yeah, the party was awesome (and you still can’t find that missing lamp shade), but man, the hangover is more price than you wanted to pay.
I get the feeling many on the left are feeling something like that today. First, after the euphoria of Bill Clinton’s speech Wednesday night, they had to deal with a less than impressive performance from Barack Obama last night. Either Obama’s speechwriting team needs a shake-up or the President is out of ideas; most of what we heard last night is best summed up as “Hey, I want a do-over!” Most media outlets, including admittedly left-leaning publications like the NY Times and Politico, panned the speech as not one of his best efforts.
Then, along came this morning’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. No wonder the president wants a do-over.
By now, you probably read all of the doom-and-gloom reporting about it. Make no mistake, this was a pretty lousy report. But worse than the numbers themselves is what it all means when you actually dig into them a little.
First, the headline numbers: the economy only created 96,000 new positions in August, but the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1%. This should be good news for the President, right? The unemployment rate is dropping (if somewhat unsteadily) and may actually get under the magic 8% mark most pundits think is needed if Mr. Obama is to have a real shot at reelection. And 96,000 new positions is better than no new positions, right?
Well, yes, sort of. For a better picture of why the jobs report is foreshadowing a major problem, see figure 1. This is the raw BLS data for the past year. Before your eyes begin to glaze over, there are three numbers to pay particularly close attention to.
The first number is the increase in the working age population over the past year. The second is the number positions created in the past year. That last one? That’s the number of working age Americans who simply gave up looking for a job in the past year. To put it another way, more of your friends, relatives and neighbors gave up the hope of even finding a job than actually found one. Nearly a million more, in fact. That’s one million American’s who are now dependent on some outside source just for survival, be it a friend, relative or the handout machine that’s become the US government.
Most economists say we need between 110,000 and 175,000 new jobs each month just to keep up with population growth. But when you look at the actual increase in working age population, the average number actually needed is around 330,000. This is very bad news for team Obama, otherwise he could point to the average of 150,000 jobs created over the past year and claim that his policies are working, albeit slowly. But the reality is that his policies are, at best, creating jobs at only half the rate needed to bring the US back to full employment.
This is particularly troubling, given that every other indicator says we should have been creating jobs at a much faster pace over the past 24 months. If you look at hourly wages, those increased by an average of 3 cents per month between March 2010 and June 2012. Although not at the level of increase seen during the Reagan, Clinton or Bush recoveries, it is still stronger than historic wage growth. Worker productivity across all sectors is also nearing an all-time high and produced solid gains during the same period. Taken together, high wage growth and productivity gains always produced significant jumps in employment before – but not now. What could possibly be holding back the “jobs engine”?
The BLS publishes an “Employee Cost Index” on a quarterly basis, and a large part of the answer can be found there. While wages and productivity show considerable growth, the ECI is also growing – in fact, it’s grown by nearly 11% since March 2010. Of that, change only 18% is represented by increased wages and a 12% drop in non-cash benefits (things like health coverage and gym memberships) counterbalances that number. So, where is the additional 10.3% in employee cost coming from? The answer is a combination of regulatory costs and taxes, the results of 3 years of this administration’s ceaseless efforts to tie nearly every industry into a Gordian knot of inefficiency. New regulations and business taxes now exceed the productivity gains made by our nation’s workforce by a 4:1 ratio, effectively wiping out the need to hire. Indeed, those costs are probably now the single biggest impediment to real employment growth our nation faces. After all, if you owned a business, you would need to be looking at explosive growth potential, not just modest growth, before bringing that much excess on board.
Many of my friends on the left insist that breakneck pace of regulations passed by the Obama administration are not having a negative effect on the economy. I submit they’re not only negatively impacting the economy, but giving business owners throughout all 57 50 states a hangover of our own.