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EconomicPolicyInstitute September 2, 2011

Less than zero

“Though much attention is being paid to ‘zero job growth’ in August, the real news in today’s numbers is that job growth is worse than in recent months, and the nation continues to produce far fewer jobs than needed to meaningfully reduce the unemployment rate.  In fact, in some ways the report was less than zero in that weekly hours fell, as did hourly earnings,” said EPI labor economist Dr. Heidi Shierholz.

Sustained high unemployment wounds entire nation

What should be a celebratory day for America’s workers, this year’s Labor Day will not be entirely carefree. In stark contrast to the intent of Labor Day, this year’s commemoration is marred by the millions of Americans who cannot find work and policymakers’ unwillingness to meaningfully address the crisis.

EPI’s latest briefing paper, Sustained high joblessness causes lasting damage to wages, benefits, income, and wealth by EPI President Lawrence Mishel and labor economist Dr. Heidi Shierholz, details the catastrophic impact the nation’s persistently high unemployment has had on the entire country.  Not solely limited to workers who are currently unemployed, America’s long-running jobs crisis also greatly affects their families and other American workers through lower wages, lost income, and diminished wealth.

When the lens is widened to include the millions of people collaterally damaged, the true scope of the nation’s jobs crisis is even more heartbreaking. Some of the paper’s findings:

1.      For the past 28 months, the national unemployment rate has been at or above 8.8%. Likewise, the underemployment rate has remained between 15.7% and 17.4% since the spring of 2009.

2.      In 2010, 10.6% of children had at least one unemployed parent, though the national average was 9.6%. More startling, the share of children with an unemployed or underemployed parent soared to 18.3% or 13.0 million in 2010.

3.      Employed workers also felt the pain, as 38% of families have been directly affected by wage, benefit, or hours reductions and 24% by loss of health insurance.

4.      According to a recent Democracy Corps Survey, 43% of Americans said they had been personally unemployed or one of their family members had been unemployed.

Perhaps most sobering, at the nation’s current rate of job growth, it will take 15 years to get back to the pre-recession unemployment rate. Mishel and Shierholz’s work has already been cited by the Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, and Marketplace.

This week’s Economic Snapshot also focuses on an otherwise forgotten consequence of the country’s weak labor market—lost wages for new college graduates. New college grads losing ground on wages finds that the rewards for attaining higher education, often considered a buffer against economic downturns, are less than they were a decade ago. Steven Greenhouse of The New York Times Economix blog highlighted the snapshot’s findings:

Attention recent college graduates — as well as parents who covered those big tuition bills. You may not want to hear this, but a study released on Wednesday found that entry-level wages for students who graduated from college in 2010 were lower than a decade earlier, after adjusting for inflation.

The study was done by Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research and policy center. She found that after gains in the 1980s and 1990s, entry-level hourly wages for college-educated men (without advanced degrees) were $21.77 in 2010, down 4.5 percent from $22.75 in 2000.

The Huffington Post and the Center for American Progress blog Think Progress also cited this week’s snapshot.

A jobs program — and a boon for kids

EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey, Jared Bernstein, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities senior fellow, and Mary Filardo, Executive Director of the 21st Century School Fund, extolled the benefits of fixing America’s crumbling schools while addressing the nation’s jobs crisis in the Washington Post op-ed, “A jobs program — and a boon for kids.”

“As its name suggests, FAST could quickly get to work fixing a vital but dangerously ignored American institution, while putting hundreds of thousands back to work and providing students with better learning environments,” the authors wrote.

Grading the education reformers

EPI Research Associate Richard Rothstein published a review of Steven Brill’s book Class Warfare for Slate.com and an extended version for Education Review. In Grading the Education Reformers, Rothstein examines the rhetoric that fans of “Waiting for Superman” and those Brill dubs “education reformers” repeat: unions are a big part of the problem, teachers must be evaluated based on standardized test scores, and charters are a key part of the solution.  While Rothstein agrees that questions about unions, the use of test scores, and charters are worthy of exploration, the studies on which these education reformers rely to promote these policies lack sufficient methodology and reputable sources.  Many of the findings are challenged by stronger, more reliable research, but those are not noted in the purportedly even-handed book.

Class Warfare reveals their single-minded efforts to suppress any evidence that might challenge their mission to undermine the esteem in which most Americans held their public schools and teachers,” writes Rothstein.

EPI launches new blog

EPI is proud to announce the inauguration of our very own blog, Working Economics, set to launch on Tuesday, September 6, 2011.  With our culture’s 24 hours news cycle, non-stop policy debates, and ever evolving social media platforms, it is paramount that EPI is able to voice the concerns of working Americans in real time.  Working Economics further realizes EPI’s goal of advocating just and sound economic policies through every medium.

Like all EPI publications, Working Economics will ascribe to rigorous research standards and also allow our experts to share their findings informally while also conveying their unique and colorful personalities.

EPI in the news

In the past week EPI’s experts have been cited in over 850 television, radio, and print media outlets. Some of the highlights include:

In Third World America: One Year Later, Arianna Huffington mentioned EPI and the 21st Century School Fund’s job creation and school repair strategy, FAST!

The New York Times used immigration policy analyst Daniel Costa’s research on fixing the J-1 visa program in the article “America’s Sweatshop Diplomacy.”

CNN Money cited EPI’s research in the nation’s slow economic growth.

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