Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jobless Recoveries

There's been much talk lately about the "jobless recovery" we're experiencing. The recession is technically over, in the sense that GDP has returned to growth. But unemployment continues to rise and most indicators of job creation are still negative (with a few contrarian bright spots: temp employment is up and hours worked are up).

The problem with all the talk is that this is the normal course of things. In their early stages, most recoveries are "jobless". Companies are loathe to hire when they are unsure about the future. The way economies normally recover is that consumer spending picks up, inventories fall, then manufacturing picks up, and finally employment rises. In the normal "virtuous circle", the rise in employment then leads to more consumer spending (since employed people have more money to spend than unemployed people), and so on. We've seen some signs in the first three stages of this cycle, but they're weak. So it's no big surprise that the last stage remains to be seen.

Government intervention can prolong the process. The "stickier" employment is, the less risk companies want to take in hiring someone new. It already takes months for most new employees to learn a new job; it's often that long before the new hire is earning money for the employer. When additional costs are piled on - guaranteed health care, unemployment insurance, Social Security and Medicare - that just increases the risk. And when it's hard to lay someone off, that increases it further.

That doesn't mean that these measures are necessarily wrong, but we should recognize the costs of having them. One of those costs is that employment recovery following a recession will be slower than it might otherwise be.

No comments:

Post a Comment