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The Politics of the Unemployment Number: This Week in Employment

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Let’s start with the big one. The piece of data that would sway the electorate one way or the other in the upcoming elections, determining once and for all which party knows best when it comes to job creation. That’s right: we’re talking the final monthly jobs report prior to the mid-terms. In political punditry, it doesn’t get much more fevered than that—especially when the best you’ve got to on otherwise is speculation over whether one of the candidates happens to be a witch.

As with most regular events that get a fevered build-up (New Year’s, anyone?), the announcement just had to fail to live up to expectations—and it surely did, with the economy leaking just enough jobs to ensure that the overall number came in at an unchanged 9.6 percent. Politically, that’s the worst outcome either party could have hoped for: the failure to get the expected rise to 9.7 percent leaves Republicans without an easy case to make when it comes to accusing Democrats of job-killing policies, while the fact that things haven’t improved means the Democrats can’t claim to have figured out anything approaching a solution either.

(Incidentally, a recent Vault poll found that the public is more or less aware of that: when asked which party was most likely to make a difference to the unemployment crisis, the number of respondents who plumped for one side or the other came to less than 50 percent combined. That compares to 38 percent who stated that the two parties need to work together, with the remainder suggesting that government should get out of the way altogether and just let business get on with it.)

By far the most interesting employment-related number of the week came from the Pew Economic Policy Group, which found that a record 30 percent of unemployed Americans had been out of work for at least in August. And it gets worse: the technical definition of “long-term unemployed” is someone who’s been out of work for over 6 months. In August, 71 percent of the “long-term unemployed” had been out of work for at least a year—dating their layoffs back to some of the darkest days of the recession. The risk, of course, is that the longer someone is out of work, the harder it is for them to find a new position—especially if the type of job that person did isn’t likely to return. That scenario gave rise to perhaps the most depressing sentence of the week, courtesy of USA Today (emphasis added): ” Many of the long-term unemployed will struggle to find work even after the job market picks up, and some will never work again.

Things don’t look much rosier when considering the major hiring announcements from the past week, either; notwithstanding the announcement that Kohl’s is hiring 40,000 seasonal workers, any other significant announcements of new opportunities tended to be in overseas markets.

It’s unlikely that we’ll see much improvement in the job market before the elections take place at the end of the month, but at least there’s one thing to be thankful for: the attempted politicization of the unemployment number should die down, at least for the foreseeable future.

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Written by Phil Stott

October 8, 2010 at 2:44 pm

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