Sure, it’s weak, but this ‘so-called recovery’ is no weaker than the last one, Greg Mankiw

On Monday, EPI labor economist Heidi Shierholz pointed out that job growth during the current recovery has been stronger than job growth during the recovery following the 2001 recession. In addition, the jobs recovery from the Great Recession isn’t too far off the pace following the 1990 recession; private sector job growth 33 months into the 1990 recovery was 3.4 percent, while it’s 2.7 percent for the current recovery. Shierholz’s main point is that it’s the historic length and severity of the Great Recession, and not unprecedentedly poor job growth in the recovery, that explains why we’re still so far from full employment 33 months since the recession officially ended.

Greg Mankiw, however, isn’t about to highlight that fact. Mankiw, who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush from 2003-05 and currently serves as an economic adviser to presidential candidate Mitt Romney, posted the graph below on his blog last weekend with the dismissive headline, Monitoring the So-called Recovery:

The graph shows the employment-to-population ratio (or EPOP) going back to 2004. We see the EPOP drop steeply during the Great Recession, followed by a mostly flat trajectory since. But let’s add a line to Mankiw’s graph for a direct comparison of this recovery to the last one:

It’s clear from the figure that EPOP fell much further and faster during the Great Recession than the 2001 recession. But looking to the right of the vertical line, we see that EPOP growth (or lack thereof) in the current recovery follows the same trend (i.e., flat) as the recovery after the 2001 recession. In other words, the key difference between EPOP at this point in the current recovery versus the same point in the last recovery (during which Mankiw chaired the CEA) is the length and severity of the recession that preceded them.

Yes, this recovery is slow, and certainly there is no excuse for the current complacency from policymakers about the jobs crisis, but the folks over at Angry Bear have a good adage for Mankiw: “People who live in glass houses should be careful about throwing rocks.”

With research assistance from Heidi Shierholz and Hilary Wething


  • Benleet

    64.7% was the highest employment to population ratio, April 2000. Today, 58.5%, down 6.2%. That’s 6.2% of 240 million, almost 15 million workers down from. Add 3.8% unemployment for April 2000, another 9 million workers. Total 24 million out of work today. I estimate a workforce of 160 million, that makes it 15.0% unemployment rate, U3. Just checking. Mankiw was CEA under Bush II, the GDP growth rate was the lowest since WWII, 2.1%. Most of the growth, 66% went to the top 1%, according to U.C. Berkeley professor E. Saez. 

  • Bill_H

    The GOP also count on people forgetting that this Republican Dystopia started out with a collapse of the banking sector (or it would have been a total collapse without the Govt action) which froze credit.  It is only in the last few months that banks have started to make credit a bit more available to smaller businesses and consumers.