The March Jobs Report: Is the Great Recession Finally Over?


Is the US job market back, finally? One interesting data point in the March employment report: the US economy added 192,000 private-sector jobs last month, pushing private payrolls to 116.09 million. That level surpasses the former high of 115.98 million reached in January 2008.

Hardly an insignificant milestone, and one that shows how far the labor market recovery has come. Although the American economy has been growing since summer 2009, a return to prerecession private-job totals is also an important marker. Perhaps, one could say, we’ve even returned to normal.

If so, it’s a dreary new normal. Consider this: private-sector jobs typically grow by about 3% a year during strong recoveries and expansions, such as the ones in the 1980s and the 1990s. From 2010 through 2013, however, they grew only by 2.1% a year. If the current recovery and expansion had been as robust as the ones during the Reagan and Clinton years, we would have around 121 million private-sector jobs right now. So we’re still a good five million private-sector jobs short of where we might be — a pretty significant “jobs gap” — by that rough calculation.

What’s more, we are nearly four million full-time jobs — both public and private — short of prerecession levels, not even assuming a stronger recovery. Just 81% active US workers have a full-time job versus 83% in November 2007. And, don’t forget, another 4 million Americans are long-term unemployed.

Another way to look at it: monthly payroll growth has averaged 178,000 this year vs. 185,000 in the 2011-2103 period. At that pace, it would take nearly six years to return to prerecession employment levels, according to the Hamilton Project’s jobs gap calculator. Overall, then, few signs of economic acceleration, though plenty of Wall Street economists think both GDP and jobs growth will pick up in coming months. We can only hope. But for now there is no reason for Washington policymakers to consider America’s economic emergency anywhere near over, even if the Great Recession technically is.

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  1. Misthiocracy Member

    How much has the population increased since 2008?

    • #1
  2. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt

    If you have to ask the question then the answer is “no”.  Everybody knows the recession is not over.  All this talk and pulling of made up numbers out of the air is to allow the government to have cover and to allow the elites to feel better about it.

    • #2
  3. user_360360 Inactive

    I found the graph very surprising that the growth rate of jobs between 2010 and 2014 appears to roughly equal the rate between 2003 and 2008.  Given the generally poor monthly job reports over the last 5 years, I would have expected the growth curve to be much flatter.  Am I misreading the data?

    • #3
  4. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT

    You are not miss reading the chart so much as the 2003 to 2008 time frame was also a time of relatively slow private sector job growth.  Mainly because it was starting from an already low unemployment base. The interesting thing I find about the data is how smooth the data looks after 2008 versus before 2008.  There seems to be very little fluctuations around the mean trends.  This tells me that there was some change in how the data was processed.

    • #4
  5. True Blue Inactive
    True Blue

    “plenty of Wall Street economists think both GDP and jobs growth will pick up in coming months,” 

    I was a trader on Wall Street for a decade.  This statement is ALWAYS true and it is ALWAYS utterly meaningless.  They are permabulls because they want more money in the system.  People declining to invest in the stock markets is bad for business.  It’s akin to asking a real estate agent whether now is a “good time to buy.”

    • #5
  6. Ross C Member
    Ross C

    the new normal is here.  i can smell the prosperity.

    • #6
  7. Rob Long Editor
    Rob Long

    I guess the question is, is this the New Normal?  Putting the 2008-2009 crisis aside, is what we’re seeing now the harvest of massive productivity growths, the migration of manufacturing overseas, and an aging workforce?  I’m not sure, but I think it is.  Which means the prescription has got to be something more robust than the standard Republican “cut taxes, cut spending” bromides.  (Even though those bromides are going to have to be part of any solution…)

    Here’s my real question: if you could do three things in addition to cutting taxes and spending, what would they be?

    • #7
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