Today’s employment report, showing that employers cut 533,000 jobs in November, 320,000 in October, and 403,000 in September — for a total of over 1.2 million over the last three months — begs the question of whether the meltdown we’re experiencing should be called a Depression.
We are falling off a cliff. To put these numbers into some perspective, the November losses alone are the worst in 34 years. A significant percentage of Americans are now jobless or underemployed — far higher than the official rate of 6.7 percent. Simply in order to keep up with population growth, employment needs to increase by 125,000 jobs per month.
Note also that the length of the typical workweek dropped to 33.5 hours. That’s the shortest number of hours since the Department of Labor began keeping records on hours worked, back in 1964. A significant number of people are working part-time who’d rather be working full time. Coupled with those who are too discouraged even to look for work, I’d estimate that the percentage of Americans who need work right now is approaching 11 percent of the workforce. And that percent is likely to raise.
Robert Reich, December 5, 2008
I think the contrast between the treatment of the financial companies and the automobile companies is instructive by itself. The big-capital guys get tons of money with no strings attached; the car companies, on the other hand, have to be scolded and forced into specific changes.
The important news, of course, is the unemployment numbers, which is the most significant gauge of how far capital is going to retreat into its shell and what it’s going to cost us. Even the financial companies are laying off lots of workers who don’t get paid millions each year.
The real question is how high the unemployment will get before the coming jobs programs kick in, sometime next Spring. After that, the most important question is going to be how the Obama administration handles the inevitable corruption that comes with giant government projects.