Exactly one year from election day 2012, unemployment in America remains stuck at crisis levels, with little reason to budge.
The U.S. economy added 80,000 jobs in October, falling below economists' expectations, while the unemployment rate dipped from 9.1 to 9.0 percent, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This report serves as the latest confirmation that, more than two years since the great recession officially ended, the labor market has essentially seen no recovery at all. For the last six months, we've averaged 90,000 new jobs each month -- just barely enough to keep up with population growth. We are treading water, economists are saying Friday, and there is no indication that an end is in sight.
"It's a very weak report," said Dean Baker, economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "We can keep going like this basically forever and never get back to full employment."
The U.S. economy still needs to regain nearly 6.5 million jobs lost during the recession -- plus some 4.6 million jobs to account for population growth.
The details inside the report don't provide much hope for the nearly 14 million unemployed Americans -- including almost 6 million who have been out of work for six months or longer -- or the nearly 8.9 million Americans underemployed in October, working part-time jobs because they are still unable find full-time employment.
Two glimmers of hope: the employment-population ratio ticked up for the fourth straight month, suggesting that more Americans are attached to the labor force -- and the unemployment rate is not dipping simply because more Americans have given up looking for work. Additionally, the number of long-term officially out of work Americans declined by 366,000 to 5.9 million, 42.4 percent of total unemployment.
But average hours and earnings remain essentially static, even as corporate productivity goes up. From June to September, workers produced more, while costing their companies less.
This trend -- which has been ongoing for decades, but has been heightened since the Great Recession -- is one critical reason why
corporate profits are at pre-recession levels, while unemployment and earnings for American workers are still in a deep hole.
"We are very gradually moving to a labor-less society," said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at The Economic Outlook Group. Firms, he said, "are making sure that the number of workers they have now are able to produce more if necessary. The problem is that there are going to be a lot of Americans who are going to remain unemployed for a very long time."
Job gains were concentrated in professional services, with growth also coming in leisure and hospitality, health care, and mining. Government employment continued to shrink. Manufacturing employment, once the hoped-for vanguard of recovery, remains flat.
"This can't be good news for the Obama administration," Baker said. If unemployment stays around 9 percent this time next year, he added, it will be the highest rate that any president has run for re-election under since the Great Depression.
"The one thing Obama can say is that he inherited this. And there's no doubt about that," Baker said. "Could he have done better? Should he have done better? Those will be the questions for debate."