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Unemployed and Unenthusiastic

Another month, another disappointing jobs report.  Following the same patterns as last year, employment gains over the summer are falling far short of what appeared to be momentum building in the winter.  The gain of 80k jobs in June is just enough to keep treading water, enough to absorb the net increase in the workforce as Millenials graduate in June and set out to make their own way in the world.

Given that politics, economics, and any other social arrangements we can think of are tied together we know this will have an effect on the election in November.  This should also shape the attitudes of an entire generation as they grow older and contemplate raising families, starting businesses, and generally making the world in their own image.

Summers always see a “mini-recession” in economic activity, which is part of the reason why many government figures are “seasonally adjusted”.  Young people, in particular, get summer jobs and have some income – but overall spending tends to go down as big purchases are set aside for the price of a few drinks on a beach.  What has been unusual lately is that these seasonal turn-downs have been enough to turn attitudes about the economy around and instill a sense of panic.

In an election year, there’s someone who benefits from sour thinking, so we can expect more of it.  This is the Obama job record so far in one chart from the St Louis Fed, starting in February 2009.

That weak smile that says, “Don’t worry, be happy” is still not very convincing.  It hasn’t actually changed all that much through these weak job reports, but it has not improved either.  Obama still has a net gain in jobs over his term, but the headline unemployment rate stands at 8.2%. Re-election is not a slam-dunk.

Yet this could be enough for Obama, given that people don’t expect much.  It’s popular among talking heads to note that no president has been re-elected when unemployment stands above blah-blah percent.  However, most people know that things are very bad and have different standards.  In 1936, when FDR was re-elected, the unemployment rate stood at 16.9%.

What’s missing in this election, however, is not just the jobs.  It’s enthusiasm.  The young people working hard under sweaty t-shirts emblazoned with “Hope” are missing this time around.

We might possibly be able to express what’s happened to the young generation in terms of employment as well.  Take a look at the unemployment rate among 20-24 year olds during Obama’s term:

It’s always hard to make absolute sense of “unemployment rates”, given that they don’t count people not looking for work.  Kids who stay in grad school don’t count, as do those with a part-time temp gig that pays so lousy they can’t afford to live away from their parents.  But what we see is that one in seven young people are completely without work that they want, hardly an improvement from one in six.

This may tell us a lot about the lack of enthusiasm in this election, but it will also have a searing effect on a generation’s attitude as they grow older and eventually take their place in this world.  Unemployment in this age group, which runs between 7.5-10% in good times, is not only historically high but stubbornly so.

This gets us back to summer because, as we can see, there is no strong summer variation in the youth unemployment rate.  There should be.  The “seasonal adjustments” are designed to take care of the overall picture and not the variation expected in a small group of 2.1 million unemployed young people.  The normal outlets for opportunity aren’t firing up for them at all.  That may be a lot of what is missing in the economy in the short term – and you can bet that this will be seared into these kids’ minds as they grow older.

The employment picture is definitely not good.  There are ways of looking at it that are simply terrible though as we manage to stay relatively even overall.  The “enthusiasm gap” that Obama is suffering from right now is a symptom of a much bigger gap between generations that will be with us for a very long time.

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22 thoughts on “Unemployed and Unenthusiastic

  1. I am not enthusiastic about anything but it could be a lot worse. There is a lot more that could be done to get the economy moving but politics keeps getting in the way. I don’t know how much I blame Obama but I am certainly not excited by him.

    • I think that’s a common perspective. It could be a lot worse, but it’s just not getting better – and no one is taking charge of the situation. That blame usually falls on the guy tat the top, right or wrong. So Obama does have a growing problem – unless this changes around fast.

  2. I used to see a lot of hope in kids & not just for Obama. They seem to be taking the depression much harder than everyone else. I wonder what future they will have with all this debt & no jobs.

    • I am not sure about the Millenials, but the ones younger than them (born after about 2000) are not hopeful at all. I don’t blame them.

  3. all of the 99% have had it & obama is no better than the repugnant-cans, if he wanted to create jobs he would have but his corporate masters wanted all the $$$ breaks for themselves

  4. The progressives and the Democratic Party need to educate, educate, educate that the GOP has blocked all attempts to improve their condition (someone has GOT to have footage of the Republicans drinking champagne every time bad economic numbers are announced) and MOTIVATE people to vote out the bums–including Blue Dogs.

    • I don’t know what will motivate people the most at this point, but I think that people are starting to talk with each other about the economy – and that has to favor Dems right now. We will see. There appears to be even less enthusiasm on the Republican side – but low turnout favors them generally.

      • You stupid uneducated idiot. How could the economy favor the Dems? It WON’T Their record is horrible and the quality of jobs suck. Real unemployment is over 20 percent.

    • You stupid bastard. You conveniently forget Obama had a Democratic House and Senate for the first 2 years. How could the Republicans be responesible for anything? Democrats dominated and failed. In 2010, the American people voted the Dems out. and Obama lost the House. Now he barely has the Senate. You sound like one of those junk yard trash looking for a free handout.

  5. As a reference point here are the start and end dates for the recent generations.

    1946 – 1964 Baby boom generation (Sorry, Erik) ; )
    1965 – 1980 Generation X
    1981 – 2001 Generation Y

    • Hey, I’m the oldest GenX, so I get the crustacean award. :-) Seriously, back to the K-Waves, those definitions match the secular bear/bull markets perfectly. And they are less than one “generation” long – which is about 30 years now, or the media age of the parents at birth. Fascinating, no?

  6. In my humble opinion our Nation began its decline when we went into Iraq based on false and faulty Bush policies causing people to lose confidence in government. In addition to the war in Iraq, the economy began to crumble due to poor speculation and unscrupulous business practices of big investment bankers, resulting in the Real Estate and Credit bubbles. President Obama has yet to restore the economy as promised and constant bickering in both branches of Congress is dividing the country along party lines, between the rich and the poor, between Wall Street and Main Street.

    I am not an economist so I want offer a comment on exactly how it should be handled but no one presently seeking residency in the White House has a practical solution to grow the economy any faster or better than the excruciatingly slow rate of growth we are experiencing. It took over 10 years to restore the economy after the great depression of 1929 and it could take between 5 and 10 years to recover from the great recession of 2008.
    Tex Arty

    • Not to quibble with you too much, but I date the economic decline, what I call the “Managed Depression“, to 2001 for a variety of reasons. In terms of the ethical/moral/energetic decline, I think you are right that things took some time to sink in as the administration went off the deep end. The Iraq War remains a bizarre diversion that we never really did regain our footing from. We’ve seemed rather lost since then.
      I have also predicted that this will last until around 2017, given the usual K-Wave cycle length – and that seems to be about right so far (if it’s not longer!).
      All of this is my speculation, of course, and it takes time for Depressions to both sink in to popular consciousness and to leave. My main point in this piece is that the current phase of the Depression is going to leave some lasting scars, much like the Great Depression of 1929 did. I think we agree on that for a lot of reasons.

    • You idiot. Under Bush our unemployment was 5 percent. When the Democrats took over the House in 2007, the unemployment increased and the market fell in 2008. The Iraq War had NOTHING to do with economy. If anything, it was keeping people employed. People like you are idiots in this country because you lack any basic critical thinking skills.

      • Hello, Rick. First of all, name calling does nothing to further your cause, but if you insist on doing it be my guest. I can assure you that regular Barataria readers will likely just ignore you.
        If you’d like to join the discussion, you’re more than welcome to. Despite my being a “stupid bastard” and an “idiot” you do seem to want to have a debate with me, and that’s fine.
        Now, as to the topic at hand, it was on how we’re losing a generation during this Depression. I didn’t see any response from you on that, so I’ll assume that you agree.
        If your argument is that the economy was running well under the Bush administration, I would like to ask you how we could run such a large permanent deficit – on the order of 5% of GDP – and still have economic growth of less than 4%. It seems to me that there were serious problems in the economy dating back to at least 2001 that were only being papered over with a lot of free cash.
        Thank you for participating in the discussion on Barataria. I hope that in the future we can engage productively.

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