I received this smart email from a reader:

When dealing with budgets, a spending cut is routinely defined as a reduction from previously planned spending, i.e. if we planned for spending to increase by 4% and it only increases by 3% there's been a spending cut.

Okay, if that's how we are going to do the numbers let's at least be consistent and do the same with employment. If the historical path of employment is that job increases are 5% per year then any growth less than 5% should be labelled a jobs deficit. Is this a fair approach? Well yes, to the extent that households make their plans based on past job growth experiences then those plans are disrupted just as are the plans of bureaucrats are when spending is cut from its projected path.

This is a great point, and it raises the question: just how many jobs has the country lost over the last four years? Not just through job destruction but through the tepid job creation?

One way we can track that is by using the employment-population ratio, provided every month by the government. This is the broadest metric of employment in this country, and the peak during the last recovery was 63.5 percent of the adult, civilian, non-institutional population. If we had held constant at that level, we would have about 154 million people currently employed. As it stands, we have about 142 million people currently employed. So that is a jobs deficit of 12 million people:

This is not a criticism of the Obama administration per se. After all, the decline in jobs occurred during the Bush administration's watch (although there was a Democratic Congress, which strangely gets exonerated for responsibility for the Great Recession). Nevertheless, it points to the extent of the jobs crisis in this country, as well as the budget crisis. There are 12 million people who, before the recession, would be paying taxes but now who are not. And many of them are now forced to collect social welfare benefits, increasing the deficit crisis by an order of magnitude.

This is the great challenge for the conservative movement for the future. If we hope to continue a regime of limited government, we have to get people back to work. Otherwise, sooner or later the country will vote the Democrats back in, and their promise of perpetual government assistance. As the Great Depression proved, it's hard to be a committed constitutionalist when you cannot make your ends meet, and the left wing is promising to help at the expense of the old regime of limited government.

Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.

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