The Housing Chronicles Blog: "Great recession" could redefine employment in the future

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"Great recession" could redefine employment in the future

As jobs in certain industries continue to be cut, it's unclear which ones will return, which will not only require re-training for new occupations, but likely raise what may be a new level for an economy that's neither growing nor decreasing. That, of course, means a variety of difficult political decisions, as forcing an artificially low rate of unemployment could result in inflation, whereas doing nothing could mean lower tax revenues and continuing payments for unemployment. From a Bloomberg story (hat tip:

Post-recession America may be saddled with high unemployment even after good times finally return.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs have vanished forever in industries such as auto manufacturing and financial services. Millions of people who were fired or laid off will find it harder to get hired again and for years may have to accept lower earnings than they enjoyed before the slump.

This restructuring -- in what former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker calls “the Great Recession” -- is causing some economists to reconsider what might be the “natural” rate of unemployment: a level that neither accelerates nor decelerates inflation. This state of equilibrium is often described as “full” employment.

Fallout from the recession implies a “markedly higher” natural rate of unemployment, says Edmund Phelps, a professor at Columbia University in New York and winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in economics. “It was 5.5 percent; maybe it will be 6.5 percent, maybe 7 percent.”

That has implications for policy makers as well as workers. The Obama administration and the Federal Reserve are counting on the jobless rate to fall to a medium-term equilibrium of about 5 percent as the economy recovers. A natural rate significantly above that would drive up the annual budget deficit -- which will top $1 trillion for the first time this year -- by reducing tax revenue and pushing up spending on unemployment benefits.

A higher rate would also require the Fed to make a choice: Accept an economy with more Americans permanently out of work, or try to boost employment at the risk of heating up inflation...

Already, almost a quarter of the unemployed have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer, the highest proportion since 1983. Permanent layoffs -- for workers who don’t expect to ever regain the same job -- hit a record 51.5 percent in March. Mass layoffs, those that affect 50 or more people, rose to a record 2,933, comprising almost 300,000 lost positions.

“We’re shedding jobs in industries in a significant way, and we’re not going to see those same industries be the source of job creation,” Bruce Kasman, chief economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, said in an April 21 interview. “We’re going to be living in a world in which we’re going to be feeling that the normal on the unemployment rate is above 6 percent....

“People tend to think that when you come out of a recession you get the labor market you had when you entered it,” says Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. “This time you may get something quite different.”

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