The Obama administration’s top labor official tried Friday to make the best of July’s sluggish job growth, as one independent economist noted that the nation is in for high unemployment for perhaps five years or longer.
The Labor Department reported that private-sector employers added just 71,000 jobs in July, leaving the nation’s unemployment rate steady near double digits, at 9.5 percent. Despite that slight uptick, overall employment shrank by 131,000 as more temporary Census workers ended their service.
With the July numbers, the economy has added 630,000 private sector jobs – “steady growth” averaging 90,000 new private sector jobs each month, which tracks closely with what the White House Council of Economic Advisors had predicted earlier this year, according to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
Bart van Ark, chief economist of The Conference Board, a business-research group, had a less-optimistic take on the dismal jobs figures.
“The modest gain in private sector jobs confirms that the economy remains on a slow growth path, and it’s going to be a long haul to rev up the jobs machine,” he says. “The current pace of employment is too slow to replace the more than 8 million jobs lost in the recession — not in the next year or two, perhaps even not in the next five years. Service industries are picking up very slowly and it’s unlikely that industries such as construction and manufacturing will ever return to pre-recession employment levels.”
Solis tried to put the unemployment picture in perspective by saying that President Obama “inherited an economy that was losing as many as 750,000 jobs each month.”
“To help put people back to work, we passed a Recovery Act for Main Street, which already has saved or created more than 2.5 million American jobs,” Solis says.
“At the end of 2008, the economy was shrinking at a rate of 6.8 percent – a freefall that risked turning a recession into a depression. But because of the strong and immediate action President Obama and Congress took, that didn’t happen,” she adds. “Instead, last week, we learned that our economy now has grown for four consecutive quarters. Economic growth is a prerequisite for job growth.”
A recent report confirms the nation’s jobless picture would be much worse today, up around 16 percent, had the government not taken extraordinary measures to rescue the economy.
Solis also took the opportunity to crow about one apparent success for the administration, in the auto sector which the government bailed out last year.
“The turnaround has been particularly dramatic in the auto industry, where we demonstrated our steadfast commitment to reviving American manufacturing. In the 12 months before President Obama took office, the American auto industry lost hundreds of thousands of jobs and sales plunged 40 percent,” she says.
“The president refused to give up on American workers and an industry that’s the backbone of so many communities,” she adds. “Today the American auto industry is growing stronger, creating new American jobs, and manufacturing the fuel-efficient cars and trucks that will carry us toward an energy independent future. And since GM and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, our auto industry has added 55,000 jobs – the strongest period of job growth in more than 10 years.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.