Five Years Later

The news is full of “five-years-after-Lehman-went-down” stories, since that’s become the benchmark event for the worst economic collapse since the Depression, like the Crash of `29 was for, well, the Depression.

Economists say the recession began in December, 2007 and ended in June, 2009 (the month I lost my job, so I take that “ended” with a grain of salt). Since then, the economy’s been sluggish at best, largely due to a lack of investment, lower labor force participation, and falling wages.

So where are we?

As of the end of August, unemployment was pretty steady at 7.3 percent, almost double that for African-Americans and almost triple that for teens. That’s down from 9 percent two years ago, but there are also 4.3 million long-term unemployed, or nearly 40 percent of the total number of unemployed Americans. About 900,000 Americans, the same number as a year earlier, had become so discouraged they’ve given up looking for work.

There are still about 3 people looking for work for every job opening. The labor force participation rate, what some consider to be a crucial metric of economic health, was at 66 percent in December, 2007. It’s now at 63.2 percent.

Most job growth is in low-wage categories. That, of course, has been a long-range trend. Even manufacturing jobs, which once were coveted for their higher pay and better benefits (thanks to unions) now pay less.

Median incomes are still parked below 2009 levels, and incomes for all but a few at or near the top of the economic ladder have fallen, and wages as a percentage of GDP has dropped to a record low, despite greater productivity.

Stocks, profits, and upper-level compensation, however, are doing quite well, thanks very much. Including the folks who created the mess in the first place.

This dreary track record should be kept in mind as we debate economic policy going forward. Bottom line here: we did too little to stimulate the economy and job creation and to get wages up, which would help spark demand. we can correct this or we can watch millions of Americans fall further behind.



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