There’s a lot of fuss about the eurozone right now, and rightly so. Spain’s bond rates are ridiculous at over 7%, and approaching the rate I get when I carry a balance on my credit card (which is very rarely). Greece just had a dramatic election and is forming a fragile coalition government. And, of course, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel are having bratwurst together at the G20 summit meeting.
But Europe isn’t the big deal right now for Americans who are out of work. Just making ends meet is what’s on their mind.
And unfortunately, the latest drumbeat of economic statistics is showing that the number of folks in the U.S. who are out of a job is still uncomfortably large — and could be growing again despite rolling back from recession-era peaks when the headline unemployment rate topped 10%.
Here are 7 particularly ugly economic statistics showing that the biggest problem right now isn’t Europe, but fixing the labor market in America ASAP.
Headline unemployment rate rose in May: The biggie came on June 2 with an ugly Labor Department report for May. Employers in the U.S. added only 69,000 jobs last month, the fewest in a year and not even close to what economists expected. For the first time since last June, the headline unemployment rate went up, to 8.2% from 8.1%, as a result.
Some states are even worse: It’s nice for North Dakota to boast a 3% unemployment rate, thanks to its energy boom and low population. But for many states things are much worse than even the national average. Take Nevada, which had the nation’s highest unemployment rate in May at 11.6%, followed by Rhode Island’s 11% and California’s 10.8%. Remember, the headline rate is an average, and many communities have it even tougher than that.
Initial claims are moving higher: On June 14, weekly initial claims for unemployment benefits showed the trend could be increasing as more folks went on the jobless roll. The Department of Labor said in the week ending June 9, seasonally adjusted initial claims totaled 386,000 — significantly worse than forecasts and part of a troubling trend. The less-volatile four-week moving average was bumped up to 382,000.
Fewer job openings, more job seekers: Employers in April posted the fewest job openings in five months, according to a Labor Department report on Tuesday. Take this wonderful fact, according to the Associated Press: “There were 12.5 million unemployed people in April. That means there was an average of 3.7 people competing for each open job. In a healthy job market, the ratio is usually around 2 to 1.”
Social Security gets tapped earlier: Motoko Rich did a wonderful piece of storytelling in the New York Times recently, putting a human face on the growing number of unemployed Americans who are filing for early — and reduced — Social Security benefits. By getting a check at 62, these folks get 20% to 30% less each month than they would at age 65 or older, but hardship is forcing them to tap their benefits early.
Rich wrote: “According to an analysis by Steve Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration, about 200,000 more people filed initial claims in 2009 and 2010 than the agency had predicted before the recession and he said the trend most likely continued in 2011 and 2012, though that is harder to quantify.” Not a good sign.
Teens have it tough, Too: Another troubling trend is on the other end of the spectrum, where summer jobs for teens have disappeared as employers have fewer posts and the competition for them is fierce. According to the Associated Press, employment for 16- to 19-year olds has fallen to the lowest level since World War II. “Overall, more than 44 percent of teens who want summer jobs don’t get them or work fewer hours than they prefer,” the AP writes. The headline numbers are even more stark, with just three out of 10 teens holding summer jobs.
Don’t forget the “underemployed” folks with poor wages: Another great New York Times piece this week is about the “underemployed.” In the words of Michael Cooper, we should remember that in addition to those out of work, “many middle-class and working-class people who are fortunate enough to have work are struggling as well.” This graphic about wages says pretty much everything you need to know: