The Lost Jobs Opportunity

This kind of chart has always bothered me:

It is not the content or format that worries me. And, to be sure, the magnitude of the labor market damage wrought by the recession weighs heavily on my mind. Moreover, the length of time to recovery seems immense. And, on top of both of these, we effectively reduce our expectations of “recovery” with this chart – recovery should be about capturing the previous trend, not the previous peak.

Despite all this, it has always seemed to me that I was missing some even darker point. I think I finally identified that issue. Consider that the US economy remains about 7 million jobs shy of the previous peak of nonfarm payrolls. At 200k jobs a month – a seemingly optimistic forecast at this point – we regain the peak in about 35 months. We are already (believe it or not) 23 months into the expansion, which means that we recover the jobs lost in this cycle after a 57 month expansion.

Now consider this: The average post-WWII expansion is only 59 months.

If this expansion is typical, then we can expect just 2 months of job growth beyond the previous peak before the next recession hits.

Now suppose that job growth limps along at a monthly average of 150k a month. Then we are 46 months away from the payroll peak, or an expansion time of 69 months. Ten months shorter than the post-WWII average. In other words, even without resorting to an immediate double-dip scenario, we could very well be in recession prior to regaining the jobs peak.

Perhaps we should take some comfort in the fact that the average of the past three expansions is 95 months – which provides some room to grow jobs beyond the peak, but not much in historical perspective. Moreover, given the likelihood that the Fed begins a tightening cycle well before the payroll peak is in sight, and that fiscal policy looks poised to turn contractionary very soon, I have trouble thinking this recovery will be more like the past three (one of which included massive technological change) than the entire post-WWII average.  That said, hope springs eternal.

The very real possibility that we will slip into recession prior to regaining the previous jobs peak casts the current situation in an even darker light than that of Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Raskin.  Not only is the depth and duration of the unemployment crisis immense, but so too are the long-term consequences.  The failure to design a coordinated package of monetary and fiscal policy to engineer a V-shaped employment recovery looks increasingly like a massive lost opportunity.  And with that opportunity now lost, a return to even something sort of like the pre-recession jobs trend seems essentially impossible.

This post originally appeared at Tim Duy’s Fed Watch and is reproduced here with permission.

One Response to "The Lost Jobs Opportunity"

  1. JPBulkoMBA   June 30, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Well, perhaps we're doomed and will never see full employment again! Perhaps not. I've written a proposal that describes a mechanism through which we can fund a massive number of new business ventures by tapping the financial power of Wall Street to create jobs on Main Street. This approach ramps up employment quickly and puts money directly into the hands of the people who need it now: the consumers (whose spending represents 70 percent of GDP). This enormous financial turbo-boost to the economy will reinvigorate economic activity and quickly return the eight million jobs lost during the Great Recession. The purpose of this mechanism is to take a private sector proactive approach to address the expected long-term high unemployment problem.

    You can read the proposal here:

    A companion piece that further elaborates upon the theme, "The 75 Percent Solution? A Moral and Economic Imperative to Create Good Jobs NOW!" can be found here:

    Joseph Patrick Bulko, MBA