It took a demoralizing 76 months, but with Friday's report of a gain of 217,000 nonfarm jobs in May, U.S. employment has finally exceeded prerecession levels.
The key chart above shows the depth of this recession's jobs loss compared to all other postwar recessions. Originally produced by the financial blog Calculated Risk, it was labeled "the scariest chart ever" by Business Insider, with good reason. BI says they're retiring the chart on the grounds that Friday's jobs report has rendered it obsolete. Let's hope so.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics report found solid job growth in almost all sectors, leaving naysayers with little to sink their teeth into. State and local government employment is finally edging up, ending the public sector's role as a drag on the economy. As Kevin Drum observes, for government employment to fall during a recovery is almost unheard-of. This is the harvest of the austerity fixation, which helped impoverish millions of Americans after the 2008 crash.
The labor force participation rate of 62.8% was unchanged in May, but it may be an overstatement to attribute this persistently low figure chiefly to "discouraged workers" — those who have given up seeking work and therefore no longer show up in the unemployment statistics.
William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, recently observed that a good portion of the long-term decline in labor force participation results from baby boomer retirements, which will continue — indeed intensify — for many years to come. Economists aren't yet sure how to balance these components, Dudley said.