Economists cite unusual causes to this latest slump, but the less-than-ideal situation still presents an ongoing challenge for public officials.
Despite optimistic signs that led economists to believe that the job market was finally making its way out of a long slump 2013 ended with an economic whimper. The latest reports show that the December 2013 job gain was about 74,000 jobs – well below the 200,000 that economists were estimating. That makes December the slowest month of 2013 in terms of job growth – and indeed, the year was largely marked by stronger numbers than those seen before. And just one month before that, in November, the unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent – the lowest figure seen since November 2008.
Economists are pointing a number of unusual factors to account for this decrease, including inclement weather. The chief US economist of PNB Paribas, Julia Coronado, downplayed the severity of the situation.
“We’re not in takeoff mode in the labor market,” Coronado stated. “[But] it’s not so much weakness in hiring as lack of vitality. We’re treading water.”
However, there is a more serious matter at play: the decline of the workforce, and not merely among people eligible for retirement benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that the labor participation rate of workers aged 45-54 dropped to 79.2 percent – the lowest point since 1988.
While numbers over the course of 2013 seem to show an improving trend in job growth and unemployment, the issue is still far from settled. And while there is little that can be done to artificially stimulate an economy, a sense of solidarity with those struggling to find a job or to make ends meet is needed. In addition to private charities that help those who are struggling economically, public programs aimed at alleviating this duress while providing able workers with resources to get back into the job market should be a top priority for lawmakers and local government officials. The public interest, which is in a very significant way under the aegis of government, should be determined first and foremost by the common good – and economics play heavily into that dynamic.
And so, in light of the present situation, the question that officials charged with this task should be asking themselves is: how is this slow growth impacting families? How is it impacting local communities? Are everyday citizens able to make ends meet, and if not, what can be done to put them back to work?
As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously stated, “All politics is local.” A truth in and of itself, but beyond that, it should be remembered that good politics is that which puts people first.
Alberto González is the Associate Editor of Aleteia’s English edition. His prior endeavors have included working in political campaigns and in the United States Senate. He also maintains an active schedule as a liturgical vocalist and organist.
A native of California, Alberto graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2010 with a B.A. in Music and Political Science. He currently lives in the greater Washington, D.C. area.