A Growing Number of Americans Believe Quality Jobs Are Attainable

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“A robust job market is one of the most important components of a bustling economy,” noted research firm Gallup in its monthly survey of jobs data. But that begets one important question: what is a robust job market? Without a doubt, the current employment situation cannot be described as robust job market. Friday’s report from the Department of Labor “showed solid job growth in February,” commented Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays, even though the unemployment rate ticked up by one percentage point. But the United States economy created just 175,000 job in the past month — growth that may have been better than expected but hardly strong.

But while “inroads” into unemployment are being made — pulling the unemployment rate down from January 2013’s 7.9 percent to 6.7 percent in February — progress is still slow. In other words, job growth may no longer be bad, but sluggish. February’s job growth of 175,000 is approximately enough to keep pace with the growing population, and job growth has yet to return to the average of 200,000 jobs per month added from June through November. And economists say that 200,000 jobs per month must be added in order to attain sustainable job growth.

The U.S. economy lost 8.7 million jobs during the financial crisis, and as of February, approximately 8 million have been recovered, a sign that the labor market is in fact resilient. The number of people who have been unemployed for less than five weeks fell by 61,000, to 2.3 million, in February, but other labor market indicators are still weak; the proportion of Americans in the level of long-term joblessness is concerning, while those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more number 3.8 million — an increase of 203,000 from January.

Job creation, especially in terms of the health of the U.S. economy, is about more than just numbers. An inspection of the anecdotal data regarding the quality of U.S. job creation shows a similar story as the broader labor narrative: Progress is being made, but slowly. Adding quality jobs is a much bigger economic driver than adding only “jobs,” and last year, nearly half of the approximately 2.1 million jobs added in 2013 were in the low-wage sectors like retail, leisure, and hospitality. These part-time, low-wage positions become important when analyzing the “underemployment rate” — a broader measure of joblessness that includes people who work part-time and people whose skills are not being fully utilized.

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