On the February jobs report

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means you were all breathlessly refreshing browsers to read the Bureau of Labor and Statistics jobs report right? Right? Well, regardless, the headline numbers are good; the economy added a net 236 thousand jobs, the unemployment rate (U3) fell to 7.7 percent, private-sector wages rose slightly.

Here’s how that looks in chart form (you knew it was coming):


Via Kevin Drum.

As per usual for the last few years, though, even good reports have a darker side; part of the rate decline was people leaving the workforce (a decline in the employment to population ratio), and while the long-term unemployed picture is getting better it’s still pretty awful (both via CBPP):



One of my favorite recurring graphs is employment impact (of the recession) by industry:

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 12.28.36 PM

I like it because it gives me an excuse to mention that we could be doing two great things at once; putting a dent in the sector (construction) that shed the most jobs while improving our infrastructure by employing these folks to build something. This idea really has been one of the biggest no-brainers in the history of no-brainers, a veritable free lunch that we’ve been throwing into the trash. As Neil Irwin writes:

With interest rates near all-time lows and millions of construction workers unemployed, the last few years have been a time that it would have been a historical bargain for the United States to do upgrades to roads, bridges, and airports that will eventually need to take place anyway. It has been a political breakdown—in particular conservatives’ view of almost any non-defense federal spending as wasteful—standing in the way.

[…] It’s not now or never, exactly, but it very likely will be cheaper now to spruce up the nation’s transportation and energy infrastructure than it will be in the not-too-distant future.

In concept, this is an area where there should be room for the two parties to work together. Business interests tend to favor new infrastructure spending, for both the benefits it brings for the companies that would like faster and more efficient ways to ship their goods and the construction companies that stand to make money actually building the stuff. Even small government conservatives want to have quality roads in their districts. Wisely chosen infrastructure spending should not increase the national debt over time, as upfront expenditures are paid back either through tolls and user fees, greater economic development, or both.

Over the last few years, though, those facts have crashed headlong into a widespread view in the Republican caucus that any federal spending is wasteful.

The lack of infrastructure investment at a time when it couldn’t be a better deal, while increasing the welfare of Americans, is an utter failure of imagination —  perhaps a consequence of being stuck for too long talking about debt and deficits as the greatest (future) threat to this country. These graphs tell an incredibly important human story, which is why I think they can be a useful tool for visualizing large, often messy, pictures of our country. Lines and bars dancing with the x,y axis are people who, for the most part, are facing a real crisis right now — maybe you, family or neighbors, and strangers we’ll never know. Our country is the proverbial house taking too long to rebuild from a devastating fire because of an obsession over the cost of future home insurance premiums. In the meantime we’re stuck in a crummy motel, not going to work as much (if at all) and worsening our collective future.


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