February’s employment numbers were better than expected. Economists had worried that the massive snowstorm that hit the eastern seaboard would depress employment more. As it was the economy still lost 36,000 jobs and the official unemployment rate remained at 9.7%. Nevertheless, as Brad DeLong says, the employment picture is now “getting worse much more slowly.” In fact, if hadn’t been for the blizzard, the economy might even be getting better—if just barely.
At The New York Times’ Economix blog, Catherine Rampell has a chart that shows just how bad job losses have been during this recession—as well as why so many economists say the current crisis rivals the Great Depression. The chart shows that we have lost a far greater percentage of our total jobs in this recession than in any of the previous five. In the worst of the other recessions—the one that began Reagan’s first term in office—we lost 3% of our non-farm payroll jobs. In the current recession we’ve lost 6% already. And in most of the other recessions, the job picture began to improve after 16 months. We’re now more than two years into this recession and the jobs picture is just now apparently starting to bottom out. In only one of the other recessions did the job picture take so long to improve—and in that recession not that many jobs were lost in the first place. So far we’ve lost 8.4 million jobs in the current recession. We won’t get back to full employment without a dramatic—and sustained—recovery. And since the economy hasn’t started adding jobs yet, a sustained recovery looks like it could be a long way away.