Saturday, Jan 17, 2009
I don’t like to start any new year on a gloomy note. I am by nature an optimist, but I am also a realist who readily faces facts. Right now those facts are not very pretty and suggest to me that the world has entered into another Great Depression. Here are some shockers about the US economy that are worth pondering.
The National Bureau of Economic Research reckons that the present recession began in December 2007. In only one month since then has the US economy not lost jobs, but worryingly, the job losses are occurring with increasing momentum suggesting that the economy is spiraling downward.
Last week the US government announced that the unemployment rate rose this past December to 7.2% from 6.8% the month before. The US economy lost 2.6 million jobs in 2008, of which 1.9 million were lost in the past four months. Of these, 524,000 were lost in December alone.
Importantly, there are clear indications that employment will drop further. Companies have been cutting back on hours worked, which reached a record low in December of 33.3 hours per week. This measure is a leading indicator because companies first cut back on hours worked before they cut jobs. Also, layoffs are growing. The Wall Street Journal reports: “The new year has brought no letup on layoffs, as employers have already announced more than 30,000 cuts.”
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The monthly unemployment report is prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics <http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm>. It reveals that the number of unemployed has climbed over the past year by 3.6 million to 11.1 million, but the real numbers are much worse when looking through the government sugar-coating in these reports. As The Wall Street Journal explains it: “While the official unemployment rate is 7.2%, a different figure that includes discouraged workers who have dropped out of the labor force and those working part-time because they can’t find full-time work hit 13.5% in December. That was nearly a full percentage point higher than in the previous month and up from 8.7% at the end of 2007.”
While a 13.5% unemployment rate is shocking, the truth is even worse because the WSJ is still relying upon government reports. To get the unadorned picture, we need to turn to private economists, and I reply upon the work of John Williams of Shadow Government Statistics <http://www.shadowstats.com/>, who presents in his latest report the true picture of the dire unemployment situation: “During the Clinton Administration, ‘discouraged workers’ those had given up looking for a job because there were no jobs to be had were redefined so as to be counted only if they had been ‘discouraged’ for less than a year. This time qualification defined away the bulk of the discouraged workers. Adding them back into the total unemployed, actual unemployment, as estimated by the SGS-Alternate Unemployment Measure, rose to 17.5% in December from 16.6% in November.”