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These Two Charts Show What's Good (and Bad) About the U.S. Economy

The jobs gap is finally closed. But there are still some glaring weaknesses in the economy.

Since 2010, the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution has been calculating and tracking something they call the "jobs gap," which is the number of jobs the economy still needs in order to return to the national employment rate the country had before 2008, after accounting for demographic factors. This statistic is a bit different from total employment, which reached pre-recession levels back in April of 2014 but doesn't account for demographic trends like population growth and the aging of the Baby Boomers.

With this morning's better-than-expected jobs report indicating that the United States' economy added 209,000 jobs in July, the jobs gap is now finally closed, as the chart below (from the report) shows:


"This indicates that, by our calculations, nearly a full decade after the start of the recession, employment has returned to its demographically adjusted pre-recession level..." conclude Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Ryan Nunn, Lauren Bauer, and Audrey Breitwieser, the report's authors. "[T]he economy has added enough jobs to make up for the losses during the Great Recession."

This month's jobs report marks 82 consecutive months of job growth; the country has now added over a million jobs since President Donald Trump took office, although the pace of job growth has been similar to the last year of President Barack Obama's tenure, and few economists attribute much of the gains to anything going on Washington, D.C. The unemployment rate is now at 4.3 percent, down from a peak of 10 percent during the Great Recession.

Good news aside, weaknesses in the economy persist. Wage growth, for example, is still slower than many would like—the jobs report concludes that wages have grown by 2.5 percent since last July. Both the retail and manufacturing sectors continue to shed jobs. Beyond that, too many people are still working part-time because they can't find full-time jobs, and the labor force participation rate for prime-aged adults is still quite low (higher participation rates for those over 55 is currently offsetting the latter trend).

The recovery also continues to be uneven, affecting different regions and demographic groups very differently. Men, for example, who were disproportionately likely to work in industries particularly hard-hit by the Great Recession, have seen much slower employment growth than women. The jobs gap for women has closed, whereas men still have ground to make up. Similarly, while black and Hispanic workers were particularly hard-hit during the worst of the recession, they've rebounded more quickly than white workers. The jobs gap for blacks is now closed, in fact (although they still remain employed at much lower rates than white workers).

The most striking demographic variation in the employment gap, however, occurs among workers of different education levels, as the chart below illustrates:

chart 2

While the employment gap for workers with college and graduate degrees has been closed for some time now, workers without a college degree still have quite a bit of ground to make up. In fact, as the Hamilton Project researchers point out, the jobs gap is actually worse today for people with just a high school degree (or less) than it was for people with a bachelor's degree back in 2010, when the economy was still deep in the throes of the Great Recession.

True to form, Trump tweeted this morning about the jobs report, writing that "Excellent Jobs Numbers just released – and I have only just begun. Many job stifling regulations continue to fall. Movement back to USA!"

This jobs report is indeed good news, but we'd all do well to remember that, for some workers, today's economy still feels like the economy of 2010.