While the March Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report looks rosy to some, the underlying realities show that the economy still has a long way to go before the celebrating can begin. On Friday, the Labor Department announced that last month nonfarm payrolls rose a seasonally adjusted 192,000 and finally reached the 8.8 million replacement level for the jobs lost during the recession and the subsequent weak five-year recovery.
Still, Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Janet Yellen said that the economy and the job market are not “back to normal health.” Yellin cited various metrics to make her case. Long-term unemployment is a critical variable. More than 33 percent of the approximately 10.5 million officially unemployed Americans have been without a job for six months or longer. At the current job creation rate, more than 7.5 years will pass before unemployed Americans could expect to find jobs.
Prolonged unemployment creates another of Yellen’s concerns: the country’s low labor-force participation rate. Extended long-term unemployment, defined as those who have a part-time job or are looking for work, is 63.2 percent, near its lowest level in 35 years. The Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz explains that the long-term unemployment crisis is not the fault of individual unemployed workers not putting enough effort into their job searches but the fundamental and sustained labor market weakness. In an earlier analysis, the EPI’s Douglas Hall wrote that in every state except North Dakota, not enough jobs have been created to replace those lost during the recession and to keep up with population growth.
In manufacturing where workers might expect to earn middle class salaries, 1,000 jobs were lost last month. On the other hand, a Los Angeles-based outdoor advertizing firm hired more sign-spinners, typically 16-to-25-year olds who start at $10 an hour. During the past year, average hourly earnings are up 2.1 percent, barely ahead of inflation. Overall average earnings dipped by 1 cent to $24.30 an hour while the average workweek increased by 0.2 hours to 34.5
None of these calculations however take into account the consequences of continued high immigration and its related population growth. With about 90,000 legal, work authorized immigrants entering the U.S. each month, the numbers of jobs that may be available to native-born Americans is potentially reduced. The flow of legal immigration continues unabated regardless of economic conditions
Using the household employment survey which breaks out immigrant and native-born employment versus the employers’ payroll survey which does not, foreign-born employment has increased by 2.3 million between January 2009 and March 2014.
Whether economists look at the recent labor data as the turning point in the extended road to recovery or as an indication that there’s still a long way to go, no one can logically argue that an increase in the labor pool would be anything but devastating to American workers.
Yet, the immigration reform bill that Congress defiantly insists against all reason on trying to push through would dramatically expand the labor market. About 12 million illegal immigrants would be granted work authorization, immediately converting them from unemployable, because of their immigration status, to employable. And legal immigration, now running at about 1 million annually, would more than double within a decade.
Passing immigration reform at this delicate juncture in the U.S. struggle to get back to full employment would be an unforgivable affront to American workers and their families.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987. Contact him at [email protected]