Labor commissioner: It will take years to recover lost jobs

The Labor Departments top statistician told Congresss Joint Economic Committee on Friday that while the unexpected bump in July job growth was a welcome surprise, U.S. job growth is still not strong. 

Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Keith Hall warned the committee that it still will take years to recover the millions of jobs lost in the recession, even if job creation speeds up in the coming months.

We are so deep into job loss, weve really lost quite a few jobs and really fallen [so far] behind, that we really need ... significantly higher job growth than weve had to make a dent, and even then it would probably take years to recover the jobs, Hall told the JEC.

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Hall said part of the problem is that research shows that the longer people stay unemployed, the longer it takes them to find work again. Thats an increasing problem because there are 13.9 million unemployed, and 44.4 percent of them have been out of work for six months or longer.

Were at easily record levels, he said of those data points. Theyve never been nearly this high in the history that weve been collecting this data.

The July jobs report showed creation of 154,000 private-sector jobs, with a net 117,000 jobs created after taking into account reduced government jobs. Hall noted that this net number is less than the roughly 130,000 jobs the U.S. needs to create each month just to absorb population growth.

So really, if youre looking in terms of recovery, I think the way you should look at these numbers is, how far above [130,000] we can get, and thats really the recovery, Hall said. A hundred and seventeen thousand is still treading water, I think.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), vice chairman of the JEC, pressed Hall on whether he thought the July jobs numbers were fabulous, as some argued. 

I would say its welcome to see the numbers in job growth increase, but no, theyre not fabulous, theyre still not strong, Hall replied.

Brady used his opening statement in Fridays hearing to argue that the report, which shows unemployment at a still-hefty 9.1 percent in July, proves that the Obama administrations stimulus-oriented plan has failed.

Another JEC member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), disagreed, citing a study from Barclays Capital and saying the GOP plan to cut government spending could result in a small reduction in U.S. economic growth over the next year. Cummings also argued that higher taxes are needed on the wealthy to ensure that the government does not balance the budget only by cutting social services.

I believe that as we work to reduce what certainly is an unsustainable level of debt, we need a balanced plan that prioritizes the restoration of economic growth, and yet upholds the full faith and credit of the United States through what should be a national commitment that entails shared sacrifice, Cummings said.

Hall told Cummings that the unemployment rate among African Americans is 15.9 percent, with Hispanics at 11.3 percent. But he added that the labor force participation rate among these populations is lower than among whites, which means the unemployment rate among blacks and Hispanics is actually worse than the numbers indicate.