So much for the economy falling off an August cliff. That was the prediction in progressive economic circles amid a summer Covid-19 surge and the reduction in government payments to individuals. But Friday’s blowout jobs report for August reveals a labor market and economy that continue to recover in encouraging fashion.
The economy added 1.4 million jobs in the month while the unemployment rate declined 1.8 percentage points to 8.4%. Temporary Census hires filled 238,000 of those jobs. But the economy has nonetheless added 10.5 million private jobs in four months, about half as many as were lost in the recession caused by government-ordered lockdowns. The recovery after the 2008-2009 recession took three years to make this much progress, and the jobless rate was still 8.1% in August 2012.
Labor force participation increased 0.3 percentage points to 61.7%, up 1.5 points from its April low. This is still 1.7 percentage points below its February peak, but the increase means that hundreds of thousands of Americans are continuing to return to the workforce. By contrast, labor force participation declined in the five years after the 2009 recession. Our contributor Donald Luskin notes that the number of Americans receiving Social Security disability payments is 9.8 million, one million fewer than in August 2012.
One reason the Barack Obama-Joe Biden jobs recovery was so slow is that Congress increased government transfers such as food stamps and Medicaid and repeatedly extended 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, which didn’t lapse until the end of 2012. The expansion of government transfer payments reduced the incentive for Americans to return to work.
Democrats call that compassion, but it’s a cruel sort of kindness for many. Skills atrophy when they aren’t put to use, making it harder to re-enter the workforce later. Notably in August, as in 2013, the job market didn’t go into a tailspin when the $600 a week in federal enhanced unemployment benefits expired at the end of July. Two-thirds of unemployed Americans had been making more by not working. Most states have signed up for President Trump’s $300 a week substitute for the $600, and that is much less of a disincentive to work.