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Unemployment doesn't budge

Job seekers read pamphlets as they wait in line to enter the HIREvent job fair at the Doubletree Hotel on August 10, 2011 in San Jose, Calif.

Kai Ryssdal: And we're just gonna pause for a minute here and ponder the sheer zero-ness of today's jobs report.

It's almost zen-like. In a workforce of 150 million people -- no net new jobs? How does that happen?

Well, it's a little addition, a little subtraction and some rounding out. The economy gained jobs in healthcare, mining, professional services and temping. We lost in manufacturing and telecommunications, mostly because of a strike by Verizon workers. We keep losing jobs in government. Throw in some downward revisions of earlier employment reports, and what you get is, on average, just 35,000 jobs a month for the summer of 2011.

Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman explains slow or -- as we saw today -- no job growth actually means workers and the economy are falling behind.


Mitchell Hartman: Every day in America, a few thousand more people enter the workforce. They turn 18 or graduate college; a new immigrant arrives at JFK; or a mom sends her youngest one off to kindergarten and starts to look for work.

So the most important number you need to know is 100,000. Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute says that's roughly how many jobs we need to add every single month just to keep up with population.

Heidi Shierholz: So that's our zero. When you get a real zero on the number line, it actually means a big loss as far as what we need just to hold steady in the labor market.

Add that 100,000 to the massive layoffs we had during the recession, and Shierholz says:

Shierholz: The total jobs gap is over 11 million jobs.

That would mean even if we got the kind of job growth we had during the booming economy of the 1990s -- and that's not even remotely likely right now -- it would take five years to dig out.

Instead, job growth has actually slowed way down: we averaged just 35,000 new jobs a month this summer.

Bernard Baumohl: People just have to face reality: We are just not going to have the kind of job creation that we've seen in the past after recessions.

Bernard Baumohl of the Economic Outlook Group says the business environment has changed fundamentally; keeping a lean and cheap labor force is now the norm.

Baumohl: The goal of companies these days is simple: How can we increase output, how can we satisfy our customers, without necessarily hiring more workers to do so?

Which means, keep the workers you're left with after all the downsizing of the recession.

Baumohl: And the proof is already in the pudding. We have an economy now that is actually producing more than it ever has before, and we're able to do so with seven million fewer workers.

There is a bright spot for those who have kept or landed jobs in the so-called recovery: Layoffs are down.

That's not much comfort, though, to Bob Hansen and William Barnes. I met them recently at the Oregon Jobs Center in Portland.

Bob Hansen: Yeah, just got laid off again. I don't know, it's hard right now.

William Barnes: I went and applied for a dishwasher position two days ago. And the position was only up for about an hour after I got there, and there were already 20 applications.

Based on today's job numbers, it might be a long time before these men and others find employment again.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.


Ryssdal: Just for the record by the way, all hype about this being the first time since 1940-whatever that the economy's added exactly zero jobs?

Baloney.

I called the Labor Department this morning. They round to the nearest thousand. So, coulda been 499 either way.

About the author

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

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