The monthly employment report, released this morning by the Labor Department, contained enough bad news to prompt some people to ask if the economy might be tipping into a new recession. But whether we have a "double-dip" or not, this morning's report makes it clear that it will be years before American workers see a healthy job market again.
Here's what the report showed: In May, U.S. employers added 431,000 jobs to their payrolls. But one single employer accounted for nearly all of that: The U.S. Census Bureau, which hired 411,000 workers in May. Those are temporary jobs that will vanish by the end of the summer.
State and local governments, meanwhile, axed 22,000 jobs - and faced with budget gaps, they will be cutting jobs for months to come. That leaves the private sector: It created just 41,000 jobs in May, three-quarters of which were temp jobs. That's better than nothing, but it's not nearly enough to end the jobs crisis.
To get back to the pre-recession level of 5 percent unemployment, we need to create 11 million jobs. If the U.S. economy started adding jobs fast - say, as fast as it did during the late-90's boom - it would still take until 2015 to get back to 5 percent unemployment.
It's almost certain that we won't see such rapid job growth in coming years. What today's report demonstrated, more than anything else, is that the private sector isn't anywhere close to being in a position to create sufficient numbers of jobs on its own. It needs a boost.
That's why we are going to have very high unemployment for a very long time, regardless of whether we enter a recession anew, unless Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration undertake new efforts to create jobs. They are reluctant to do so, in part because Republicans have been so cynical and relentless in labeling past job creation efforts a failure. Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI) was at it again today, saying "the so-called jobs agenda of Democrats in Washington has failed to stimulate anything other than more debt."
This is ludicrous. Were it not for last year's Recovery Act, 2.5 million more jobs would have been lost. It may be true that this isn't a potent political talking point - when people are struggling to find work and make ends meet, saying 'it could have been worse' doesn't provide much comfort. But it's the truth.
The President should show some strong leadership and push ahead with aggressive efforts to put people back to work. There are plenty of good policy options for doing this, like the Local Jobs for America Act. There are also crucial steps that we must take both to aid unemployed workers and strengthen a recovery, like extending unemployment insurance.
These actions will increase deficits in the short term. At a time of high and rising deficits, that's a hard thing to swallow. But it's an enormous mistake to confuse short-term deficits, which are necessary to fighting the recession, with the long-term budget challenges we'll face long after the economy and job market have fully recovered.
Nearly half of all jobless workers have been unemployed for more than six months, the highest rate of long-term unemployment on record. There are more than five unemployed workers for every available job. These are measures of a crisis that will do enormous harm to unemployed workers and their families for years to come, driving up poverty, increasing family stress, harming children's educational achievement, and exacting other untold costs well into the future.
There is no good reason to let this crisis linger when we have the ability to act to do something about it. Republicans will recycle their dishonest arguments and do their best to make the President pay a political price, but today's jobs report should convince the administration that the human costs of inaction are simply too great to let political concerns stand in the way.