WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Bill Knight - April 15

Macomb, IL – Two recent government surveys about jobs let advocates cherry-pick statistics, but three serious problems remain ignored: Millions of Americans are still out of work or "underemployed," long-term joblessness is a crisis, and there have been historic declines in average weekly wages as well as employment.

The official U.S. jobless rate is still at 9.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey of U.S. households, the third straight month with no improvement. Another economic indicator focusing on businesses instead of individuals, the Current Establishment Survey, is where the Obama administration got its good-news figure of 162,000 new jobs created in March.

The clich is that the devil's in the details, and there's certainly some nasty, if not evil, facts wandering around all these numbers: More than 15 million people remain unemployed.

Tens of thousands of new jobs are temporary, such as 48,000 census jobs.

And the jobless rate is more than twice the rate President Bill Clinton left George W. Bush when the Supreme Court named him president.

Mark Gruenberg of Press Associates, Inc., writes, "Bush's policies, and those of his business backers, produced the current Great Recession and high jobless rate that Obama inherited."

An alarming 6.5 million people - more than 44% of the jobless - have been unemployed more than six months. And besides that 9.7% figure, about 17.5% of the U.S. labor force is now made up of "discouraged" workers, Americans who the government classifies differently than others in unemployment statistics.

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research says, "There was an increase of 295,000 in the number of people involuntarily working part-time, pushing this measure near its recession peak. While we are seeing job growth, it is at a very slow pace. The average in the private sector over the last two months was just 66,000 jobs. With the public sector shedding jobs, we will need more rapid job growth just to stay even with the growth in the labor force."

Serious drops in wages as well as jobs were reported this month in a third BLS report, the County Employment and Wages report for the third quarter of last year. Employment dropped in 329 of the 334 largest counties in the nation - 98% of those counties. Also, the average weekly wage fell over the year by 0.1%, the first time there's been an over-the-year average weekly wage decline for three consecutive quarters.

The decline is one of just five such drops since the quarterly data were first compared in 1978, a span of 31 years and 123 quarters through the third quarter of 2009.

Breaking down the data by state, Illinois suffered a 5.7% loss of employers between September 2008 and September 2009, and over the same period endured a 1.2% drop in average weekly wages, the BLS shows.

Further detailing it by counties, downstate Illinois counties studied sustained serious employment and wage damage. For example, McLean County had a loss of 3.8% in employment in that span of time, and reported a comparable improvement of 2.2% in wages; Peoria County had a loss of 8.3% in employment then, and reported a slight decline of 0.9% in wages; Rock Island County had a loss of 7.1% in employment over that 12 months, and reported a terrible loss of 3.9% in wages; and Winnebago County had a loss of 9.3% in employment between September 2008 and September 2009, and reported a "less bad" drop of 0.1% in wages.

Still: Bad news for workers' pay continued through the recent data, too.

Baker adds, "Nominal wages fell in March for the sixth time since 1964. This is not a good sign for future income growth."