There is growing talk that the economy is finally on its way to recovery — “A Steady, Slo-Mo Recovery” — in the words of Businessweek.

Here is how Peter Coy, writing in Businessweek, explains the growing consensus:

Job growth is poised to continue increasing tax revenue, which will make it easier to shrink the budget deficit while keeping taxes low and preserving essential spending. All this will occur without any magic emanating from the Oval Office. It would have occurred if Mitt Romney had been elected president. “The economy’s operating well below potential, and there’s a lot of room for growth” regardless of who’s in office, says Mark Zandi, chief economist of forecaster Moody’s Analytics.

Something could still go wrong, but the median prediction of 37 economists surveyed by Blue Chip Economic Indicators is that during the next four years, economic growth will gather momentum as jobless people go back to work and unused machinery is put back into service. “The self-correcting forces in the economy will prevail,” predicts Ben Herzon, senior economist at Macroeconomic Advisers, a forecasting firm in St. Louis.

Before we get lulled to sleep, we need some perspective about the challenges ahead.  How about this: we face a 9 million jobs gap between the number of jobs we have and the number we need, and this doesn’t even address the low quality of the jobs being created.

The chart below, taken from an Economic Policy Institute blog post, illustrates the gap.

As Heidi Shierholz, the author of the post, explains:

The labor market has added nearly 5 million jobs since the post-Great Recession low in Feb. 2010. Because of the historic job loss of the Great Recession, however, the labor market still has 3.8 million fewer jobs than it had before the recession began in Dec. 2007. Furthermore, because the potential labor force grows as the population expands, in the nearly five years since the recession started we should have added 5.2 million jobs just to keep the unemployment rate stable. Putting these numbers together means the current gap in the labor market is 9.0 million jobs. To put that number in context: filling the 9 million jobs gap in three years — by fall 2015 — while still keeping up with the growth in the potential labor force, would require adding around 330,000 jobs every single month between now and then.

Unfortunately, our “job creators” only created 171,000 net jobs in October. And that was considered a relatively good month.   The chart below, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,  gives a sense of what we are up against.

Of course, weak job growth in the past doesn’t mean that we cannot have strong job growth in the future.  On the other hand, such a change would require consensus on radically different policies than those currently being discussed and debated by those in power.

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Martin Hart-Landsberg is a professor of Economics and Director of the Political Economy Program at Lewis and Clark College.  You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.

 

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