Sunday, September 5, 2010
Recently there has been a surge in cherry picked employment charts highlighting that the Obama administration has done a great job in rescuing the economy. The premise goes: after dropping to as much as 700K+ jobs lost per month, the administration has managed to pull off a miraculous recovery and now we are riding on a wave of 8 consecutive “private jobs” beats in a row. This argument is so shallow we won’t even bother with it. Perhaps the “economists” who espouse this theory will be so kind in their next iteration of their charts to overlay the monthly US debt issuance side by side with the jobs number. Because you see if you drown the economy in unrepayable debt, while using transfer payments to fund the digging of trenches by every man, woman and child who makes up the labor pool, then yes – you may get 0%, or even negative, unemployment overnight. Will it bankrupt the country (even faster)? Why, of course. But whoever said those who discuss politics subjectively ever care about the long-term implications of reality. So in the vein of sharing pretty charts, here is one: we show job losses since the beginning of the Recession (excluding for the impact of census hiring), juxtaposed to the natural growth rate of the Labor Pool (and not the artificial one, which according to the BLS is the same now as it was a year ago). We discover that i) 7.6 Million absolute jobs have been lost since the beginning of the Recession; ii) that a record 10.5 Million jobs (and you won’t find this statistic anywhere), have been lost when factoring in for the natural growth of the Labor Pool of 90-100K a month (we use the lower estimate, which also happens to be the CBO’s estimate), and that iii) assuming we expect to return to the jobs baseline level as of December 2007 (or an unemployment rate of 5%) by the end of Obama’s second term (and we make the big assumption there will be a second term), Obama needs to create 230,000 jobs each and every month consecutively from September through November 2016 in order for the total jobs lost to be put back into the labor force, and that iv) an optimistic (if more realistic) projection of jobs returning to the work force means the return the baseline will occur in 2019, some 7 years after the start of the last recession. The point of these observations is not to cast political blame on either party: we are in this predicament due to the combined stupidity, corruption and greed of both parties. The question is how do we get out of here. And unfortunately for all those hoping that a return to a normal, baseline past is possible, please forget it (i.e., the New Normal is really real), at least for the next 7 years. This also means that any charting, technical analysis and other “reversion to the mean” approaches of forecasting the future will all end up sorely lacking and misrepresenting the final outcome.
Chart 1: a simple baseline chart that shows where we were, where we are, and where we are going, with the assumption of recovering all labor force growth-adjusted jobs losses from December 2007 through the end of Obama’s second term. The conclusion: the economy needs 229,300 jobs per mont (incidentally, for the simplistic read on the labor force which does not account for demographic changes, which economists tend to conveniently forget all too often, a 230K jobs pick up a month, means a recoupment of baseline jobs lost in June of 2013).
Chart 2: We demonstrate that the cumulative jobs lost since December 2007, are in fact materially greater when adjusting for a realistic change in the labor force, instead of that presented by the administration, which naively expect people to believe that the labor force in August 2010 (154,110) was lower than that in August 2009 (154,426). That in the meantime the US population grew by 2.5 million seems to make no difference to the administration. Which only means that sooner or later this labor force participation will catch up to the numbers. Either way, we factor for it, and assume that the labor force was growing by 90K every month since the start of the recession, and add the cumulative differential to the jobs lost. The result: in the 33 months through August, the US has lost not 7.6 million jobs, but 10.5 million: a stunning 38% delta.
Obviously, all these projections are unrealistic. So let’s take them down to some version of reality… even if it is Bank of America’s. We take the most optimistic Wall Street projetions we could find – traditionally those belong to Bank of America’s Ethan Harris. In a note released to clients, Harris discusses his revised jobs forecast:
Under the weaker growth trajectory we are now penciling in:
- Private payrolls manage tepid monthly gains of just 25,000 through the end of 2010. As the growth recession fades in the second half of 2011, gains in private payroll employment should accelerate. We expect average monthly gains of 125,000 in the fourth quarter of 2011.
- Therefore, for most of 2010 and 2011, employment growth is not expected to keep up with the rise in the labor force, which means the unemployment rate heads north. We expect a steady increase to 10.1% by the second quarter with a slow fall slightly below 10.0% by the end of 2011.
So let’s adjusted the chart using Bank of America’s projections, which assumesa gradual increase in the unemployment rate to 10% by Q3 2010 and a decline since then. We chart these projections on the chart below. According to this adjusted case, the payroll number will never return to the December 2007 baseline for the duration of Obama’s term, even if one assumes 200K job pick ups beginning in January 2012 and continuing every month thereafter (as we have done). In November 2016 we forecast an unemployment rate of 5.7% using these assumptions. They are presented visually below:
And just to demonstrate what the recession will look like assuming even this quite optimstic assumption, here is the famous post WW2 recession comparison chart adjusted for an expansion of the depression (let’s not split hairs here) labor force, that started in December 2007: it is shaping up to be 7 years before the jobs lost finally are put back into the system. And that’s for those optimistically inclined.
So before everyone gets all political on who has done a more bang up job of destroying the economy, perhaps both sides can explain how they each got the US to a point where even wildly optimstic projections assume that the length of the most recent economic slowdown will take 85 months to resolve (and, in all reality, far, far longer).
This article was posted: Sunday, September 5, 2010 at 3:48 am