Friday, March 6, 2009

Do continuing job losses mean a greater economic shift?

You've probably heard terms before like "creative destruction," in which new technologies and ways of doing business can transform entire industries. But what happens if the entire economy is facing a generational shift? From a story in the New York Times:

Another 651,000 jobs disappeared from the American economy in February, the government reported Friday, as the unemployment rate soared to 8.1 percent — its highest level since 1983.

The latest grim scorecard of contraction in the American workplace largely destroyed what hopes remained for an economic recovery in the first half of this year, and added to a growing sense that 2009 is probably a lost cause...

The acceleration has convinced some economists that, far from an ordinary downturn after which jobs will return, the contraction under way reflects a fundamental restructuring of the American economy. In crucial industries — particularly manufacturing, financial services and retail — many companies have opted to abandon whole areas of business...

For American policy makers, such a reality poses fundamental challenges to the traditional response to hard times. For decades, the government has reacted to economic downturns by handing out temporary unemployment insurance checks, relying upon the resumption of economic growth to deliver needed jobs.

This time, argues Mr. Silvia, the government needs to put a much greater emphasis on retraining workers for careers in other industries.In the auto industry, for example annual American car sales have dropped from some 17 million a year a few years ago to 9 million now. Even if sales increase to 10 or 12 million, that still leaves a lot of unneeded factories...

Much the same can be said for financial services, which gave up another 44,000 jobs in February. During the housing boom, banks hired tens of thousands of well-compensated traders, analysts and marketers to sell mortgage-backed securities and other exotic flavors of investments. That industry is unlikely to return to anything close to its former shape...

Click here for full story.

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