4 important facts about unemployment from economist Lee Ohanian:
- The economy should be creating 500,000 jobs/month, instead of 200,000.
- Long-term unemployed makes up half of those unemployed, and they have little or no value in our economy.
- The retirement age is certainly going to rise.
- Those with only a high school degree or less are not competitive in the global economy.
More than 200,000 new jobs were created in January, 2012. What do you make of the pace of job growth?
The major puzzle about the U.S. economy has been the remarkably slow job growth. The U.S. economy should be creating about 500,000 jobs per month now, given high worker productivity, the large pool of available workers and the fairly high level of corporate profits. While 200,000 jobs sounds really positive, it is only about half of what we should be seeing.
The long-term unemployed — those who have been out of work for more than six months. It seems that new jobs are going to people who have just entered the workforce or to those who were unemployed for a short time. What’s going on here?
Long-term unemployment is at a record level of nearly 50 percent of the unemployed. The market value of these workers is very low, because many simply don’t have the specific skills required to compete in today’s economy. It becomes the problem of retraining construction workers to become health care workers. It can’t be done overnight, but this process needs to move forward. Those construction jobs aren’t coming back anytime soon. Reforming unemployment insurance to include retraining funding would be useful.
What is your view on the retirement age in the U.S.? Is it too low, too high or just right?
The retirement age is now, depending on what year you were born, between 65 and 67 for full benefits. This will almost certainly rise in response to dealing with the upcoming shortfall in Social Security associated with baby boomers [more than 70 million of them ] who are now approaching retirement. The aging of the baby boom cohort will increase the share of the population who is 65 and older from its current level of 13 percent to about 19 percent of the population. This will put enormous pressure on the underfunded Social Security system — so get ready for a gradual increase in the full retirement age.
How has unemployment differentially impacted workers?
Education level is a major differentiator. Workers with high levels of education and training — those with bachelor’s degrees and beyond — have very low unemployment rates, about 4 percent. In contrast, those with no post-high-school education and very young workers have unemployment rates of more than 20 percent. The message is very clear: A good career starts with a solid education that includes training beyond high school.
Low-skilled and unskilled workers were hit very hard by the recession and continue to suffer. Is anything going to change for them?
This again points to education. Many of these unemployed have only a high school degree or never graduated from high school. These workers are, for the most part, no longer competitive in the global economy. Many may not be competitive even at current minimum wages, and some probably wouldn’t work for minimum wages. Fundamentally, they need to retrain in order to successfully re-engage in the labor market.