Go read David Leonhardt’s economic column in the Times. Basically, the people who still have jobs are getting bigger raises because their companies are making so much money.
One of the distinctive features of the Great Recession has been the enormous number of people who have been out of work for months on end. Almost 45 percent of today’s unemployed workers have been without a job for at least 27 weeks. In no other downturn since World War II did the share exceed 26 percent.
For many of these long-term unemployed, the financial and psychological damage will last for years. For most other workers, however, the situation has had a perverse, and mostly overlooked, silver lining.
Unemployment has been concentrated among a surprisingly small number of people, given how deep the recession has been. The nation’s pool of jobless workers has not been constantly changing. Instead, it’s been relatively stable — mostly because the hiring rate of new workers plunged in 2008 and still has not recovered. The drop in hiring has actually been steeper than the rise in layoffs.
Compare the current slump with that of the early 1980s, which was similar in severity. Over the course of 1980, 18.1 percent of the labor force was unemployed at some point. In 2008, the first year of this slump, only 13.2 percent was, according to the Labor Department’s most up-to-date data. That number surely rose in 2009, but it is unlikely to have come close to the 1982 peak of 22 percent.
If anything, the slowdown of the recovery in the last few months has made the recession even more concentrated. It has put off the day when the job market will be strong enough to re-employ many of the long-term jobless. But inflation has fallen to zero, which helps the purchasing power of everyone fortunate enough to have a job.
Here’s the really interesting part:
The least affected area is a band running from the Dakotas and Minnesota down to Texas and Louisiana. Continuing the concentration theme, this band includes some of the manufacturers and other businesses that have emerged from the recession the quickest.
This pattern probably helps explain why the Senate has taken such a leisurely approach to helping the economy in recent months. Many of the states in the best shape also have small populations and, as a result, outsize political power. In Nebraska, where the unemployment rate is 4.8 percent, there is one United States senator for every 900,000 people. In Florida, where the unemployment rate is 11.4 percent, there is one senator for every nine million people.
Maybe if we lived in those states that keep getting flooded, we’d get more sympathy. Economic tsunami? Ho hum.