During the robust Reagan jobs recovery in the 1980s, liberals regularly dismissed good news by attributing it to the creation of “McJobs.” So it’s interesting to see liberals celebrating the September jobs report, in which the headline unemployment figure fell to 7.8 percent, largely because of an increase in Americans settling for low paying part-time jobs.
Once a month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports two main sets of employment numbers. Under one measure, based on a survey of employers, the economy added 114,000 jobs in September. Under another measure, based on a smaller survey of households, the economy added 873,000. But a more detailed look at these numbers shows that 572,000 — or about 67 percent — of the reported job gains that contributed to the reduction in the unemployment rate came from workers who had to settle for part time work. BLS explains that, “The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) rose from 8.0 million in August to 8.6 million in September. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.” This is why a broader measure of unemployment, which takes into account those who were forced to accept inferior jobs, remained flat at 14.7 percent.
This report is part of a broader trend that we’ve seen over the past few years, in which job gains have been concentrated in lower-wage positions. And this isn’t just spin from the Romney campaign. Over the summer, the liberal National Employment Law Project released a report that was highlighted in the Atlantic, which focused on this trend. The report found that:
– Lower-wage occupations were 21 percent of recession losses, but 58 percent of recovery growth.
– Mid-wage occupations were 60 percent of recession losses, but only 22 percent of recovery growth.
This is illustrated by the NELP chart above. Though Obama has touted modest job gains during the recovery as evidence things are getting better, looking merely at the headline jobs and unemployment number obscures the fact that the middle class has still struggled to find quality jobs, while more Americans are settling for lower-paying work.