That is not how it has happened, as the jobs report released Friday makes clear.
The economy added 245,000 new jobs in November, which is better than nothing — but only barely. The country has still seen the loss of millions of jobs since the recession began, meaning that adding a quarter of a million jobs each month would necessitate years of gains before employment is back to normal. That’s ignoring population growth, of course, and that’s assuming that things don’t get worse before they get better.
On the surface — and as President Trump will probably point out — the continued decrease in unemployment is obviously good. Looking strictly at the number of Americans who are unemployed each month, there is a rough V shape that has been demonstrated over the past seven months or so. In recessions since 1948, the rise in unemployment was slower and usually hadn’t significantly begun to decrease nine months in.
That trend is a bit deceptive, though. For one thing, we’re still at the worst unemployment, relative to the start of the recession of any downturn since the recession that began in July 1953. But more worrisome is that even as the number of people out of work declined — in part a function of people getting back to their old jobs, as predicted — the number of people out of work permanently rose.
For the past three months, it has been essentially flat at about 3.7 million people, a 192 percent increase over the figure in February.
(Data on this metric are available for only the past three recessions.)
As a percentage of all unemployed individuals, the number of permanently unemployed is now higher than the rate nine months after the starts of the 2001 or 2007 recessions (the latter of which was the Great Recession). It wasn’t at first, precisely because so many of the job losses were temporary furloughs.
What’s striking is that the average duration of unemployment is now nearly twice as great as at the equivalent point during any other recession since 1948. Many of the people who have lost their jobs have been out of work for a long time.
We can look at that another way. During the Great Recession, the durations that people had been out of work were fairly steady for the first few months. During what we might call the Covid Recession — referring to covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus — short-term unemployment has given way to long-term job losses.
Trump would like, even now, to present the economic response to the virus as robust, to frame the crisis as acute. It isn’t. It’s chronic, with nearly as many people permanently fired from their jobs now as in November 2008, the month that Barack Obama first won election.
It’s another indicator of the divergence in how the downturn has been experienced in the country. For some, the damage was limited in duration and scale. For others, things got bad quickly — and stayed there.