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Don’t Make Too Much of That White House Job Summit — or the New Unemployment Numbers

Clusterstock hopes everyone assumes the Obama administration’s big jobs summit on Thursday was nothing more than a P.R. show. Otherwise, we’re all in trouble.

We were disturbed when we heard econ aide Christina Romer talk on CNBC about one of her “breakout sessions” at the event, because that implies the event was really characterized by discussion and brainstorming.

Why is that bad?

Well, look, if the whole thing is a PR charade then that’s politics as usual, and at this point, it’s not controversial. But we hate to think that anyone was under the illusion that a problem as complex and varied as the US recessioncould be solved with an afternoon of brainstorming.

That’s hubris.

It’s also not exactly the right path to take, wrote former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Ideas to stimulate job growth aren’t bad, and they may even reduce the unemployment rate a bit. But there are bigger worries, he said.

Under the pressure of this awful recession, many companies have found ways to cut their payrolls for good. They’ve discovered that new software and computer technologies have made workers in Asia and Latin America just about as productive as Americans, and that the Internet allows far more work to be efficiently outsourced abroad.

This means many Americans won’t be rehired unless they’re willing to settle for much lower wages and benefits. Today’s official unemployment numbers hide the extent to which Americans are already on this path. Among those with jobs, a large and growing number have had to accept lower pay as a condition for keeping them. Or they’ve lost higher-paying jobs and are now in a new ones that pays less.

All of this is worth keeping in mind with the release of new unemployment numbers today from the Labor Department. Bloomberg reports that the unemployment rate unexpectedly fell to 10 percent in November, and that employers cut 11,000 jobs in November — the fewest since the recession began in December 2007. According to Bloomberg, the unemployment rate drop signals the recovery is lifting the labor market out of the worst slump in the post-World War II era.

But no matter how the numbers get spun – and regardless of high-profile summits to discuss job creation – the country’s employment crisis remains deeply complicated, with no clear solution in sight. A one-month drop in the unemployment rate doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. The unnerving possibility remains of a permanent decline in wages and jobs for many workers, and an employment picture ahead that will be far less bright than in the past.

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