Article published Friday, August 23, 2013, at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Speeches won't boost economy

By John R. Lott, Jr.

President Obama arrives in Pennsylvania today to push up his sagging approval ratings. But he faces a tough sell. According to the latest Gallup poll, his job approval rating on the economy stands at just 35 percent.

We are more than four years into the "recovery," and one thing is clear: This continues to be by far the worst recovery on record. And that goes for general growth in gross domestic product as well as for job growth.

While the unemployment rate has fallen from its peak of 10 percent down to 7.4 percent, that doesn't mean many new jobs. People are classified as unemployed only as long as they are actively looking for work. The unemployment rate can thus fall either because people have found jobs or because they have given up looking for work. In this case, about 70 percent of the drop has been because people have given up looking.

Job growth has been abysmal. Jobs have increased by 2.9 percent in the more than four years since the recovery started, but that is less than a third the job growth seen in the average recovery since 1970, and less than a fourth the growth seen after other severe recessions.

The number of new jobs hasn't come close to keeping up with the growth in the working-age population, and the percentage of the population working has quickly fallen to a level we haven't seen since the 1970s.

But a closer look shows the picture is actually even bleaker:

A stunning 97 percent of the net jobs added this year have been part-time jobs.

Why are so many stuck with part-time jobs when they were trying to find full-time ones? To put it simply, firms aren't hiring.

In the year and a half before the recession, new hires averaged 5.25 million per month. During the recession (December 2007 to June 2009), they fell dramatically to 4.39 million, hitting 4.2 million per month in January 2009, when Obama became president.

Yet, instead of hiring picking up as it normally would in a recovery, it has averaged just 4.1 million per month. The latest data, for the last three months, have shown some improvement to 4.35 million - but the number is still slightly below the average during the recession.

So how can we be gaining jobs when fewer new people are being hired? Because an unusually large number of people are staying in the jobs they already have.

A drop in total job separations can be a good thing - if, for example, the cause is a decline in layoffs. But that's not the case. Rather, there's been a serious drop in workers quitting - most likely because they fear not being able to get a new job.

One million fewer Americans a month are quitting their jobs than during the couple of years before the recession.

Quits aren't supposed to be falling during a recovery. During a recession, sure: With poor prospects of landing a good new job quickly, people hesitate to voluntarily leave.

But the opposite is supposed to happen in a recovery: People sense opportunity, and they chase it. The rebound is supposed to be especially strong after longer recessions, as people who've been putting off quitting finally decide it's safe to bite the bullet.

While those who have jobs have hunkered down and held on to their jobs, the lack of new jobs has really hit young people who are entering the workforce. Obviously, they don't have the option to simply keep the jobs they already have. If economic research is right, there are long-run consequences to a bad start in the job market. These young people's entire careers are going to be impacted by this early unemployment.

Other developed countries, such as Canada and even the European Union, have created jobs at a faster rate than America.

The president keeps speaking as if he has no responsibility for what is happening. But for the first two years of his administration, he enjoyed massive super- majorities in Congress and got everything that he wanted passed, including five very expensive "jobs" bills.

Unfortunately, Obama's policies, such as spending and Obamacare, have damaged the economy. Even recent surveys show that most Democrats don't believe he is offering new ideas to finally get the economy going. Delivering the same speech yet again won't be any more convincing.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of the recently released “At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?”

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