Anxious to hang onto our jobs, we're being more productive than ever, it seems. Since the 2007 economic downturn sent unemployment rates higher, businesses have only cut back on goods and services by 3 percent, while Americans (factoring in both the employed and unemployed) have been working 10 percent fewer hours. In short, fewer of us are working harder, a situation that Washington Post reporter Neil Irwin says is discouraging businesses from hiring more people and putting the unemployed back to work. Is there an end in sight?
Business's gain is your loss: The fact that businesses have learned to do more with less is great for the companies, says Ezra Klein in The Washington Post, but it's bad news for job-seekers, already overworked employees, and the economy. It's like strapped businesses "cut out their morning coffee only to learn that they don't really miss it," but you're the one stuck with the caffeine headache.
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There's a possible silver lining: The other way to read the data is that "the job market is wound like a tightly coiled spring waiting to pop," says Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. After all, the economy is showing some "green shoots" — GDP is growing and "the stock market looks awesome." If that translates into real recovery, businesses could "wade into the jobless market" with a vengeance.
It's the economy, stupid: The root of our labor market problem isn't increased productivity, says Matthew Yglesias in Think Progress. It's "inadequate demand." Business leaders aren't the only ones who tightened belts during the downturn — we all did — and until consumers start spending again, companies will continue to operate below capacity.
The jobs will come back... eventually: The solution to our unemployment problem may not be a better economy, says Mark Lieberman at Fox Business, but more retirements. It's cold comfort for today's jobless, but economists like Barry Bluestone at Northeastern University say the exodus of baby-boomers around 2018 will create so many openings there won't be enough workers to fill them.
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