I’ve been in this economics business for a while. In fact, I’ve been in it so long I still remember what people considered normal in those long-ago days before the financial crisis. Normal, back then, meant an economy adding a million or more jobs each year, enough to keep up with the growth in the working-age population. Normal meant an unemployment rate not much above 5 percent, except for brief recessions. And while there was always some unemployment, normal meant very few people out of work for extended periods.
So how, in those long-ago days, would we have reacted to Friday’s news that the number of Americans with jobs is still down two million from six years ago, that 7.6 percent of the work force is unemployed (with many more underemployed or forced to take low-paying jobs), and that more than four million of the unemployed have been out of work for more than six months? Well, we know how most political insiders reacted: they called it a pretty good jobs report. In fact, some are even celebrating the report as “proof” that the budget sequester isn’t doing any harm.
In other words, our policy discourse is still a long way from where it ought to be.
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