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Recovery is One Thing, Jobs are Another

12:00 AM, Feb 5, 2011 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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Second, the jobs figures are telling a story of a semi-jobless recovery that might well be more than a passing phenomenon. It is increasingly obvious that even a robust recovery might not make a sufficiently significant dent in the rolls of the unemployed to satisfy politicians that spending-and-printing must stop. The high level of unemployment persists despite the fact that the number of job openings in the United States has risen from 2.3 million in July 2009 to over 3 million today.

The explanation of this combination of high unemployment and rising job openings is getting increasing attention, and is the basis for vague calls to improve education and job training. There are several reasons for this unhappy combination of circumstances, reasons that go beyond the increased productivity of the work force. For one thing, the recession has permanently cut down the size of some industries: they will never again need the number of workers they hired before the recession, so those thrown out of work will have to find employment in entirely different, unfamiliar industries. For another, skills and the habit of work atrophy the longer a worker is unemployed, and almost 44 percent of the jobless have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. The Washington Post reports that the bursting of the housing bubble in Fresno, California pushed the unemployment rate close to 17 percent, but the 7,000-employee Community Medical Centers cannot fill job vacancies for everything from therapists to workers skilled at handling medical waste.

Finally, Americans, once famous for renting U-Hauls and getting themselves to where the jobs are, no longer are so mobile. For the simple reason that they cannot sell their houses either without accepting a price below the level of the outstanding mortgage, or in some cases not at all, given the number of foreclosed houses looking for buyers.

Not yet the sort of economy the president wants to have when we enter the voting booths on November 6, 2012.

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