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April 06, 2004

I am so confused.

From January 2001 - January 2004, or for the last three years, we've lost, what? 2,000,000 jobs?

Or is it 3,000,000?

And we're all happy, rightfully so, that we seem to have gained 308,000 jobs last month. And that job cut announcements declined in March. Only 68,034 of them.

So far, in April, Sun Microsystems is cutting 3,300 jobs

Bank of America is cutting 12,500 jobs

I'm just saying. It's only April 6, and a ten-second search already found almost 84,000 jobs being shed, during the period when we were "gaining" jobs and since.

For the record, I don't trust government numbers released two days after the end of the month, either. I predict we're going to see an 'adjustment' of that 308,000 number. Downwards.

(But maybe not until May, when everyone has stopped paying attention. Today, the Bush re-election machine needed a boost, so those numbers got leaked and then released almost before we'd torn the March page off of our calendars.)

Jobs are disappearing, no doubt about it. How much should we actually be worried? I went looking for easily digestible information, the way I frequently do.

The new cuts follow a wave of major downsizing announcements earlier in the month, including 3,400 jobs eliminated at the Wall Street brokerage firm Merrill Lynch and 14,000 at defense contractor Raytheon.

Layoffs are coming at a pace not seen since the early 1990s. According to a report by Challenger, Gray and Christmas, job cuts in the third quarter totaled 151,000, the highest number in five years. There were 100,000 jobs eliminated in the period between September 1 and October 8.

For the record, that last story was published in October, 1998. At the time, cuts were attributed to the huge wave of mergers and acquisitions going on. But it proves that losing jobs isn't new.

On the other hand, take a look at this, published November 4, 2003:

Planned layoffs at U.S. firms shot up to 171,874 jobs in October, from 76,506 in September, job placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said in their monthly job cut report. That was the highest amount since 176,010 job cuts were announced in October 2002.

Now I'm wondering if maybe we don’t always lose jobs in the fall or something? I skim the article, and sure enough:

Some economists cautioned that job losses in October are usually higher due to seasonal factors.

Okay, well, that's reassuring.

I guess.

Now I'm wondering how worrying that 2-3,000,000 really should be? And if it should worry us, then how reassuring should that 308,000 be?

If we lost over 190,000 jobs in November and December last year, is that about normal or is it scary?

Well, that depends on how you arrange the numbers. It's not scary if you compare it to the year before. There were fewer job cuts in 2003 (1,236,426) than 2002 (1,466,823).

Does that mean the Bush Administration is entitled to say things are getting better or is the fact that we lost 1,236,426 in 2003 so outrageous that being less outrageous than 2002 really just isn't good enough?

That is more than double the 553,044 job cuts averaged annually during the six-year period before the recession."

The answer is, "not good enough."

Now we're making progress.


The clear fact is that we were shedding jobs before Bush took office. Is that enough to get him off the hook for what's happened to the economy since? Would it have happened no matter who was in office and no matter what policies were enacted?

And how about those tax cuts? Does giving a handful of rich people help the economy? I really don't believe it does.

On the other hand, I have trouble seeing how giving a handful of rich people a tax cut can torpedo the economy a few months later, either.

Unless, of course, there's no way to pay for the tax cuts and government spending is suddenly squeezed so that the millions of people getting one or another kind of government benefit, or collecting a paycheck from the government, start getting the wobbles…well, that could torpedo the economy very quickly.

is that what we're seeing?

Is there any way to know?

This is why the average person on the street runs away from you when you try to discuss the economy. This is why I run away when anyone tries to discuss the economy.

In my next life, I'm going to be an economist or a weather forecaster. Neither of them can really be held responsible if they're completely wrong. I need a job with a 50% or better fudge-factor built in.

In the meantime, here's a site that seems to deal mostly in numbers over the long term. I don't know if they're any more accurate than anyone else, but at least there's little debate over what the numbers were once a few years have passed.

I'm sure the Right will see this site as liberal propaganda, based on the policies of the site's sponsors, but you can't make everyone happy. (There's a telltale concern, on the EPI site, with low-income citizens. You don't often see from conservative think-tanks.)

Still. They provided nice, tidy, easy to read graphs, so I like them.

I think I'll go look for weird news stories instead. They don't hurt my brain as much. (Well, I have issues around creating new ways to market junk food to kids, but those create a different kind of pain.)

Posted by AnneZook at 10:22 AM