The economy added 244,000 jobs in April, which, aside from a few months where the numbers were inflated due to temporary census workers, is the single biggest month of job growth America has had since the crash of 2008. Thank you, McDonald’s!
Normally, this would be greeted with several high-fives and yays! all around. Except that the positive news is also coupled with the realization that the unemployment rate climbed from 8.8 to 9 percent. A healthy, or normal unemployment rate, is usually between 5 percent and 6 percent.
Despite the high unemployment figures, the economy has generated 760,000 private jobs in the past three months, the report showed. And that has the financial sector feeling optimistic: Stocks jumped, commodities rallied, bonds slid, Bloomberg reported.
“This is good news, and it’s getting better,” James Glassman, senior economist at JP Morgan Chase & Co. said, according to Bloomberg. “People increasingly are becoming more confident that we are on a recovery track.”
But a recovery track for whom? Certainly not for the average American worker struggling to pay his or her mortgage or rent, put food on the table for their kids, and weighing whether or not necessary medical care is worth bankrupting them.
“We can add 244,000 jobs a month and not be back at normal [unemployment] till about 2017, at the earliest. And there’s no guarantee we’ll continue to add 244,000 jobs a month. First-quarter GDP growth was slow, housing is weak, energy costs are climbing and we’re seeing a surge of people newly filing for unemployment insurance,” says Ezra Klein of the Washington Post.
Yesterday, Fortune magazine released its annual Fortune 500 list, including this remarkable nugget: “The combined profits of the Fortune 500 increased by 81% — $318 billion — this year, the third largest percentage gain in the list’s history.”
Since the recession, some 8.8 million jobs have been lost, and of those, the economy has seen 2.1 million of those jobs return. So yes, the economy bottomed out at the end of 2008, and it’s been slowly getting “better” since then.
It’s safe to reason that the economy is certainly getting better, but for the biggest multi-national corporations and not necessarily the average American worker. When gasoline prices hit $4 per gallon, it’s great for BP, Chevron and Exxon/Mobil. It’s not so great for the construction worker who has to pay $60 to fill up the gas tank on his work truck.
Even if the economy is getting better for regular folks, as some are claiming, using the baseline metric of available jobs and people working, are their actual lives getting any better? It’s an honest question. At some point don’t we, as a country, need to make an effort to measure other variables, along with whether people are working, as an indicator of the country’s health?