More Room For Boom!

Ben Baden, On Wednesday September 28, 2011, 9:48 am EDT

Next week, the Labor Department will release its much-anticipated monthly jobs report. Last month, the economy added exactly zero jobs overall, and 14 million Americans still remain unemployed. Economists expect September’s numbers to be a slight improvement, but not enough to make a noticeable dent in the unemployment rate. In the meantime, here are 15 statistics about the jobs market that put the jobs crisis in perspective:

1. 9.1 percent. Today’s unemployment rate is the highest it has been since 1982.

2. 131.2 million. The total number of jobs held by Americans in August. In January 2000, total nonfarm employment stood at 130.8 million. That means that over the past decade or so, less than 400,000 jobs have been added overall. At the same time, the eligible work-age population (those older than age 16, who are not in the military or prison) has grown by 28 million.

3. 58 percent. That’s the number of workers currently employed as a percentage of the work-age population. In December 2007, it was 63 percent. “Particularly in an economy where multiple-earner households are an important element, that drop of about 5 percentage points equates to several million people who want jobs, who would like to have jobs, but for whom there are no jobs available,” says Patrick O’Keefe, director of economic research at accounting firm J.H. Cohn and former deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Labor.

4. 11.5 million. Currently, there are 11.5 million fewer job holders than there were in 2007 before the recession began. “That’s the true depth of our jobs deficit,” O’Keefe says.

5. 6 million. That’s how many workers have been out of work for at least six months and have looked for a job within the last 30 days. They are called the “long-term unemployed.” This group accounts for 42 percent of the total number of unemployed. “That’s the most striking statistic,” says Stacey Schreft, director of investment strategy for the Mutual Fund Store, an investment firm in Overland Park, Kan. “Even though we have unemployment rates that were comparable to the ’81-’83 recession, we didn’t have long-term unemployment anywhere close to this.”

6. 40 months. The average duration of unemployment is more than three years.

7. 16.7 percent. The unemployment crisis has affected races differently. This is the unemployment rate for blacks. Compare that with 11.3 percent for Hispanics and 8 percent for whites.

8. 25.4 percent. Young people have also been hard-hit. About a quarter of teenagers are unemployed. In comparison, the unemployment rate for adult men is 8 percent, and for adult women, it’s 8.9 percent.

9. 250,000 to 300,000. That’s the estimated number of jobs many economists say the economy needs to add monthly to begin to push down the unemployment rate over the long term. Since the so-called “jobs recovery” began in March 2010, the first month the private sector added jobs since the recession, an average of 105,000 jobs have been added per month, well below the number needed to see a significant impact on the jobless rate. O’Keefe estimates that the economy needs to add about 175,000 jobs per month just to maintain the employment rate. “If we’re not adding about 175,000 jobs per month, our employable population is losing ground. Whether they’re unemployed or discouraged job seekers, they’re not getting work,” he says.

10. 2.6 million. That’s the number of people who are considered marginally attached to the labor force, up 200,000 from a year earlier. According to the Labor Department: “These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the four weeks preceding the survey.”

11. 977,000. Of that 2.6 million, almost a million are considered “discouraged workers,” unemployed individuals who have given up looking for work. Once the economy begins to add jobs at a more robust pace, the unemployment rate may actually rise because discouraged workers will once again begin to look for jobs. “If we really got substantial job growth around 200,000 to 300,000 jobs a month, which is what we need for a healthy jobs growth that can deal with new entrances to the labor market and start putting people back to work … then people start to become more optimistic and some of the discouraged workers begin to look for work,” says Schreft, who is also a former economist and vice president at the Kansas City Federal Reserve. “They’re not counted right now in the 9.1 percent unemployment rate, but they would then become ‘unemployed’ because they would be people who are actively looking for work.”

12. 9.6 percent. Who says college isn’t worth it? The unemployment rate for those whose highest level of education is high school stands at 9.6 percent. For those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, the rate is only 4.3 percent.

13. 8.6 to 8.9 percent. That’s where the Federal Reserve expects the unemployment rate to be at the end of this year. Many private economists have offered much more dire predictions. For instance, Goldman Sachs expects unemployment to still hover near 9 percent at the end of 2012.

14. 18.5 percent. Earlier this month, Gallup found that 18.5 percent of the total workforce remains underemployed, meaning they’re unemployed or working part-time but they want to work full-time. That level is basically unchanged from a year ago. “Focusing merely on unemployment instead of underemployment tends to ignore the hardship facing the millions of Americans forced to work part time,” says Dennis Jacobe, chief economist at Gallup in a recent news release. The underemployment number is even higher for certain subgroups, including those ages 18 to 29 (28.9 percent), those who have not attended college (23.1 percent), and among blacks (27.8 percent), according to Gallup.

15. $49,445. Recently, the Census Bureau announced that real median household income fell to $49,445 in 2010, the lowest number since 1997 after adjusting for inflation. “We have fewer workers working fewer hours at lower wages in an inflation-adjusted sense,” O’Keefe says.