The Hourless Recovery—er, Recoveries

A Benjamin Cole post

If the U.S. labor market were a foreign entanglement, it would rank up there with Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan—at least for the soldiers, which in this case are employees.

The apologists for miserable U.S. job performance sometimes blame structural impediments and demographics, and, to be sure, there is a germ of truth in those stances. But look at this chart:

Hours

The unvarnished truth is that Americans are working the same amount of hours now as they did in 2009—and also as in 1999. The civilian labor force has grown by 13% since 1999, btw.

Some people say unemployment and under-employment is not so bad, including at different times, John Cochrane and Paul Krugman, who note the virtues of leisure time. Funny, when I was unemployed post-2008 it did not seem so leisurely to me. If you trundle from employer to employer hat in hand for enough months, you will conclude that no one will hire a guy in his 50s. You drop the health insurance, and also, illegally, auto insurance, scurrying through town like a fugitive, fearful of every street cop. Feed the family on credit cards.

My story is an anecdote, but the numbers in the chart tell a million anecdotes, if you know how to read them.

To be sure, cut taxes on employers, to be sure, reduce regulations.

But the United States had taxes and regulations, and worse, in the 1960s. In the 1990s, too.

What we did not have in the 1960s and 1990s was a Federal Reserve Board obsessed with microscopic rates of inflation.

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