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July 2, 2013

Full Employment: The Big Missing Piece

While some important parts of the current economy are showing strength — housing, energy extraction, corporate profitability — demand for labor, or “job creation” if you prefer, remains weak.  That’s a huge problem because most of us depend on our paychecks, not our stock portfolios, so the fact that there’s still about 12 million unemployed (including four million who’ve been jobless for over half a year) in addition to about eight million involuntary part-timers (who want more hours, and can’t find them) should give one pause before declaring all clear on the economic front.

Weak labor demand plays an integral role in these outcomes, but too much of the rhetoric I’ve been hearing lately ignores that reality.  In the immigration debate — and I’m a longtime active supporter of comprehensive reform — advocates in both parties argue that there are lots of job slots waiting to be filled, if only we had greater labor supply.  This claim is most commonly made regarding high-skilled workers, like programmers, but one advocate recently wrote a commentary arguing that we also face a shortage of low-wage workers.  Anyone with even cursory knowledge of employment or especially wage trends among such workers knows that this is not a credible claim.

It’s even worse over in the poverty debate, where contentions about the safety net, a topic I wrote about last week, suggest that the jobs are there for the taking if only SNAP (food stamps) and other benefits weren’t removing the incentives for low-income people to look for work.  (The Southerland amendment to the farm bill, a key reason the bill failed in the House, was very much written in this spirit.)”

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Read full New York Times article here

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