EDITORIAL: Here's an idea for real recovery

Jul. 20, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Bill Clinton paved his way to the White House with the catchphrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

The well-publicized, oft-repeated rejoinder can’t be asserted enough, though, especially these days. In an age where small distractions become overblown through social media’s (and our own small-minded) propensity for mutation, it’s easy to lose sight of one of nation’s most critical hashtags: #nojobs.

Where are the jobs? We’ve been hearing for months now that the economy, that elusive, esoteric representative of our collective fiscal health, is on the upswing. Certain data suggests that’s the case. Washington trots out various indices and statistics suggesting growth and improvement; the Dow, which looked a couple of weeks ago like a correction was setting in, is still on fire; housing numbers (including sales prices) are improving.

But where are the jobs?

In an opinion piece he penned this week for The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report Editor Mortimer Zuckerman adroitly pointed out some not-so-well publicized figures indicating that not only has our economic recovery been weaker than we’ve been led to believe, but jobs data we’re reading aren’t telling the whole story of the straits in which our nation’s workforce find themselves.

Among the things he pointed out:

* The vast majority of new jobs claimed by those back on payrolls are part-time jobs.

* Real unemployment, when factoring in part-time workers who can’t find full-time work and those long-term unemployed who have given up on finding a job, is closer to 14 percent than the “official” number of 7.6 percent.

* Americans by the millions, Zuckerman writes, “are in part-time work because there are no other employment opportunities as businesses increase their reliance on independent contractors and part-time, temporary and seasonal employees.”

* The largest job gains in June came from the leisure and hospitality industries and were primarily in positions in places like hotels and fast-food restaurants, where the average weekly paycheck keeps one at or near the poverty level.

* Fear of ObamaCare has employers scrambling: because the health-insurance law requires employers with more than 50 workers to provide health insurance or pay fines, “businesses, especially smaller ones, have an incentive to bring on more part-time workers” and trim hours of those who would normally be considered full-time. (The mandate has been postponed until 2015, but it’s hard to say if that will impact employers who’ve already trimmed hours of full-timers and hired more part-timers.)

No one in Raleigh or Washington seems to have a grasp on what’s required to change the picture, but Zuckerman suggests policies “that will encourage the modernization of America's capital stock, where investment in modern production has plunged to the lowest levels in decades.” Such policies will “inspire the design and manufacture of products in the U.S., where they would be closer to the American market,” and would create more hiring. That would give business and industry confidence to engage in real growth, which will create real jobs, and finally, real recovery.

Would it work?

Or is Washington too stupid to try?