Labor Day Employment Report: If It's So Good, Why Do I Feel Bad?

10/20/2009 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

Another Friday, another employment report. The results are in -- and the Labor Department said that 216,000 were given the heave-ho last in August, bringing the total number of Americans out of work since the beginning of the recession to 6.9 million. Yes, that was good news.

When I discussed the jobs report with my pals at WOOD radio in Grand Rapids, MI earlier this morning, Gary and Steve asked what most Americans want to know: when is it going to get better? OK, so you try telling folks in Michigan of all places, that during a recession, we call data that is "less bad," good. You know Michigan, where the local unemployment rate leads the rest of the nation.

In most recessions, the last thing to recover is jobs. They may be truer than ever in this whopper of a downturn. Earlier this week, the Labor Department reported that productivity grew at a 6.6% annual rate in the second quarter, the fastest pace in over five years. Investors cheered the news, because it meant that employees are working harder for the same amount of money, producing more stuff for the company.

Conversely, from the point of view of the worker, she knows all-too-well that companies are pushing/demanding an increase in output in order to attempt to remain profitable during the recession. The worker needs the company to survive to keep the job, so she can't complain too much, but at the end of last month, she knew that she worked harder for the same salary.

All of this is expected in a recession, but as data is released, we need to boil down the facts to their logical conclusion: the improvement is important, but every economic report has a human being behind it. As we enter Labor Day weekend, the holiday that honors the social and economic achievements of American workers, try to take a minute to consider how others are affected during this recession and eventual recovery.

Image by Flickr User bobster855, CC 2.0