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A Lost Decade for Private Sector Jobs

This graph from the Real Time Economics blog shows that private sector employment is lower than it was a decade ago:
A Lost Decade for Private Sector Jobs, by Jon Hilsenrath, Real Time Economics: To mark this week's focus on the dismal state of the U.S. job market, check out the following chart, which shows the trajectory of private sector U.S. employment since 1998. It tells a story of a lost decade for U.S. workers.

The U.S. now produces fewer private sector jobs than it did a decade ago. ...
It's worth nothing that overall employment is higher than it was a decade ago, but that's only because the government has produced two million additional jobs during that stretch. You can expect both sides of Washington's political spectrum to spin the lost decade for jobs in their own direction. Republicans will use it to blast Mr. Obama's big government approach -- though it's worth remembering that most of these jobs were lost when a Republican controlled the White House. Democrats will use the data to demonstrate the benefits of a helping government hand in down economic times. ...
The administration is holding a jobs summit later this week, but the fear is that it is more for show than anything else, and it is not clear what, if anything, will come of it. If so, that's a mistake. The administration needs to do more than just acknowledge that it "feels your pain," it needs to alleviate some of the problem with a jobs program that produces results. The midterm elections are less than a year away, and there's every indication that when the election is held the employment problem will still be present and that could be problematic for Democrats.

I don't like using the election as a reason and motivation to do something about this problem -- the struggles that the unemployed face should be enough on its own to motivate action. But if elections are what it takes to move Congress and the administration to do something about this, then I suppose we'll have to settle for that. Given the lags in the process of creating jobs, however, I'd say six months is optimistic -- there's only a month or two left before it will be too late to do anything in time to affect employment before the election. And if it doesn't get done in time to help Congress get votes, it's unlikely it will get done at all no matter how bad the problem gets.

One final note. Timidity the first time around -- even if it was driven by political realities -- is part of the problem. With a more aggressive package, employment would likely be much improved right now, but unfortunately that's not the policy that was implemented. If the administration puts a jobs program in place that is too reserved and does little to help with employment, that will make its political problems even worse, since it will appear that its job policy was largely a failure. If it does move on a jobs program -- as it should -- it needs to be sufficiently aggressive and it needs to target jobs directly. Then we should all cross our fingers, not because of worry over the election (though losing ground would be a big disappointment for Democrats), but in the hopes that jobs will come to households struggling to make ends meet.

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