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A new normal for the job market?

Job seekers wait in line at the Choice Career Fair held at the Doubletree Hotel in Dallas, Texas.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: President Obama was on NBC this morning. Matt Lauer had him on the "Today" show for half an hour -- talking, for the most part, about education. It's no surprise at all, though, that the conversation turned to the economy and the job market as well.

President Barack Obama: As long as unemployment is as high as it is, as long as we haven't recovered as quickly as we should have, people are going to be hurting.

It's what he said after that, though, that caught our attention. That bad as things still are in the labor market, this country's not in a "jobless recovery."

We asked Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman to track that down for us.


Mitchell Hartman: As the president says, the private sector has been adding jobs since January -- about 100,000 a month on average. We had to wait years for significant job growth after the recessions in 1990 and 2001. But those were mild recessions. We didn't lose eight million jobs, and unemployment didn't get anywhere close to double-digits.

And economist Gary Burtless at the Brookings Institution says even though this isn't technically a "jobless recovery," it sure feels like one.

Gary Burtless: The growth in the number of jobs every month is smaller than the growth in the working-age population.

What that means is when you add in new high school and university grads, and parents returning to work, and people who got laid off and still can't find jobs -- the labor market just isn't keeping up.

Burtless: People like myself worry we're going to have very high unemployment for a very long time to come.

In fact, economists are divided about whether unemployment will ever get back down to where it was before the recession -- about 5 percent. That's what used to be considered "normal."

John Challenger at the outplacement firm Challenger Grey & Christmas is convinced it will go back down -- eventually. But he says it may not look much like the old "full employment."

John Challenger: Many more employers today are utilizing people on a part-time basis, as consultants.

Challenger thinks the trend is here to stay. He calls it "just-in-time hiring."

Challenger: They hire people on to handle their surges, but they don't turn them into permanent full-time employees.

Many economists believe the financial rescue and stimulus spending of the past two years have helped. They say without them, the economy might still be losing jobs today.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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