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Every major aspect of the [jobs] report was negative. In effect what we've had is very mediocre gains for three years.
THE GOP convention in Tampa was lucky. It dodged Hurricane Isaac with only a mild scheduling disruption. Democratic conventioneers, conversely, hadn't quite cleared Charlotte before an ill wind of dismal news grounded many of their high hopes: The Labor Department reported that the economy in August had added a meager 96,000 jobs--even as 368,000 dispirited Americans stopped looking for work altogether.
As Stephen Stanley, quoted above, suggests, the misery indices don't stop there. State and local governments actually shed jobs--10,000 of them--as did manufacturing and "temp" services. Meanwhile, the percentage of people participating in the labor market fell to a 31-year low: More than a third of healthy, working-age Americans over age 16 are not actively looking for employment. This is no lazy-bones epidemic: People who lose their job today are on the street an average of 39 weeks--more than twice the average duration, notes a Journal editorial, of the period 1984-2008. No wonder many give up.
The new jobless figures, as bad as they are, understate the tragedy of the modern American worker. Not only are 12.5 million of our compatriots seeking work, while another 8 million able-bodied workers have opted out of the paycheck-hunting game, but millions more toil in jobs far below their skill level. On the Journal's op-ed page, Mort Zuckerman of U.S. News & World Report points out that "over 40 percent of new private-sector jobs are in low-paying categories such as health care, leisure activities, bars, and restaurants."
Finally, there are the involuntary part-timers, people who recently worked full time but have had their workweeks whacked to two or three days--saying goodbye not only to a large chunk of salary but also to health insurance and other benefits that once marked membership in the middle class. These unfortunates comprise about 15 percent of the workforce.
Technocrats may yammer of a "recovery"--at the lunchbox level this feels closer to a depression. What the Democratic nominee has done has fallen short; the GOP nominee's ideas--tax and regulation cutting-- sound like medicine for the margins.
But if the pols in their convention centers lacked solutions, those who present in another indoor venue glean the sorrows and fears of American working life circa 2012. Coming soon to the Big Screen--"Les Miserables."