Despite uptick in jobs, picture for new college grads, older workers remains grim

The Labor Department reported Friday that U.S. economy created 204,000 jobs in October after adding 163,000 jobs the prior month.  

This is much better than was expected, but still well below what is needed to bring unemployment down to acceptable levels.  

The jobless rate rose a tick to 7.3 percent, further indicating the challenges ahead owing largely to recalibration of population statistics. 

The government shutdown negatively affected employment but the impact was not large. 

Federal employment was down on 12,000 in October after falling 5,000 in September. Some contraction was to be expected owing to continuing effects of sequestration.

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Subpar economic growth remains the much larger problem.

Preliminary estimates indicate the economy expanded at 2.8 percent in the third quarter, up from 2.5 percent in the second. However, consumer and business demand weakened, and much of the growth was inventory build and a slowing of imports, and those are likely to reverse in the fourth quarter.

Topping out of auto and home sales, along with the large litigation settlements paid by Wall Street’s larger banks, will subtract from growth too, and preliminary estimates for the fourth quarter are closer to 2 percent.

ObamaCare mandates for employer paid health insurance coverage, anticipated for 2015, are already encouraging more part-time hiring. 

Along with the visceral anti-business campaigns waged by unions, such as those targeting McDonalds and Wal-Mart, these trends are creating a broad part-time economy in hospitality, retailing and other sectors where wages are subpar and job security nonexistent.

The jobs count may be up but for recent college graduates and older adults the situation is grim, and many working age adults have abandoned job searches. 

Adding in part-timers who want full-time employment and discouraged adults who have abandoned searching for jobs, the unemployment rate becomes 13.8 percent.

Even with more full time positions, the pace of jobs creation is well short of what is needed. About 360,000 jobs would lower unemployment to 6 percent, but that would require GDP growth in the range of 4 to 5 percent. Over the last four years, the pace has been a paltry 2.3 percent.

Much stronger growth is possible. Four years into the Reagan recovery, after a deeper recession than Obama inherited, GDP was advancing at a 4.9 percent annual pace, and jobs creation was quite robust.

Administration policies and Congressional neglect of fundamental economic issues, and endless ideological infighting and obsession with social issues bear considerable responsibility. 

Important examples include restrictions on domestic petroleum development, unwillingness to address Asian export subsidies and artificially undervalued currencies and increasingly costly regulatory reviews.

Together these impair American competitiveness, increase imports, drive jobs overseas, and institutionalize a buyers’ market for labor and suppress wages.

Eliminating the resulting $450 billion trade deficit would create more than 4 million new jobs directly, and at least another 2.5 million as those additional workers’ spending spread through the economy. This would raise living standards and reduce income inequality much more pervasively than a living wage law could ever accomplish.

Also, speeding up regulatory reviews to protect the environment, consumers and financial stability would free up government resources for growth promoting infrastructure and R&D investments and creative talent in the private sector to more productive pursuits.

The White House is bogged down in the Affordable Care Act morass and appeasing the left’s cultural agenda, and Republicans endlessly obsess about legislation—from repealing the ACA to new restrictions on abortion that will never pass Congress. 

Promoting growth remains a stepchild.

Peter Morici served as Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission from 1993 to 1995. He is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland.