Monday, November 10, 2008

Patriotic Patience

Nearly everyone in the country (and any number of countries around the world for that matter), are excited about the prospects of an Obama presidency. However, its incredibly important to begin the process of tempering some of the excitement with a realization of just how deep a ditch our country is in when it comes to the economy.

The October unemployment figures are staggering. The unemployment rate is up 6.5%, the highest unemployment figure since March 1994. It signals the loss of more than 240,000 jobs in October, bringing the total job loss number to an estimated 1.2 million for 2008.

"Today's report underscores the importance of restoring the health of our banking system and credit markets so that employers can rebound and create jobs,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao said in prepared remarks. “It will take time for the impact of the economic rescue package to be felt on the broader economy and the labor market."

No kidding! Of course, that assumes that banks will at some point begin using the $700 billion given them in September to actually start making loans.

Even the construction industry is feeling the pinch, "Construction had by far the highest unemployment rate of any industry and the largest increase, up from 6.1 percent a year ago," Ken Simonson, chief economist for The Associated General Contractors of America, said in a news release.

And then, try this on for size: we may not be considering the total picture. In other words, unemployment may actually be worse than the numbers report. According to Daniel Gross of Slate Magazine, "In the past year, the two key measures of employment—the unemployment rate and the payroll jobs figure—have been poor but not awful. The unemployment rate has risen from 4.5 percent a year ago to 6.1 percent. And in the first nine months, 760,000 payroll jobs were lost. This is unwelcome but not catastrophic. So why do things feel so bad? It's not because, as Phil Gramm suggested, we're a nation of whiners. And it's not a matter of columnists and spin doctors shading the numbers to make things look worse."

"Rather, these two figures are undermeasuring the weakness in the labor market. By some measures, in fact, the job situation is worse than it has been at any time since 1994."

One area that appears to be recession proof: the health care industry. "...health care employment continued to expand in October, with an increase of 26,000. Over the past 12 months, health-care employment has grown by 348,000."

Texas tends to be somewhat counter cyclical when it comes to the economy, but this time even we are starting to feel the pinch, losing an estimated 4000 jobs in September, according to the Dallas Morning News.

"The fact that we went down one month, I don't really pay much attention to that at all," said Cheryl Abbot, an economist in Dallas with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics."

"But what I think all of us need to realize is that if you look at the trend of the unemployment rates and the job growth rates, we're not independent of the national economy," Ms. Abbot said.
The Texas Workforce Commission is scheduled to release October jobs data for the state on Nov. 21."

None of this is good news. Government, businesses, non-profits and academic institutions are going to have to demonstrate levels of creativity and cooperation, we've not seen in a very long time. It will take time to turn this economy around.

Shortly after 9/11, we were encouraged to exhibit a 'market patriotism' ('Don't worry; go shopping). Now a new type of patriotism is demanded of us - patience.

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