Epstein on Latest Jobs News

The Economic Ignorance of Barack Obama
Richard A. Epstein
Defining Ideas
April 9, 2013

One story has dominated the economic news this past weekend. The story is that job creation has slowed to a “trickle,” in the words of a Wall Street Journal headline. Only 88,000 new jobs were created in the month of March. That feeble rate was accompanied by the “good” news that the jobless rate, which only counts those actively seeking work as unemployed, had dropped from 7.7 to 7.6 percent.

The real news was that the decline in the unemployment rate was explained by the separation of nearly half a million people from the workforce, so that labor-force participation shrunk from about 67.3 percent in early 2000 to about 63.3 percent today. A crude first approximation of the real unemployment rate would add back at least 4 lost percentage points. A more accurate estimation of the actual unemployment rate would account for those individuals who were out of the market by 2000 in part because of the impediments to market performance that were already in place. 

With these weak numbers, the political discussion has continued to focus on job creation and economic growth: How should these goals be accomplished? On “All Things Considered,” I heard E.J. Dionne advise that the Federal Reserve should keep its foot on the accelerator, by opening the cash spigot and keeping interest rates at their historic lows. At the same time, the rest of the government should put worries about the deficit aside—or so the argument goes—by increasing public expenditures funded in part through higher taxes on the top one percent. David Brooks rightly disparaged that prescription, but still was unable to identify that “big structural change” he hoped would turn the economy around.

Faculty: 
Richard A. Epstein