Economist Justin Wolfers thinks Friday’s jobs report was “sunny.” And it may actually get better thanks to monthly revisions. “I think that October’s ‘meh’ number,” Wolfers said, “might actually turn out to be revised and be pretty strong.”
And yet, voters in this past Tuesday’s elections painted a cloudy forecast for our country’s economic outlook. Seventy-eight percent told exit pollsters they were “very or somewhat worried” about the economy. Paul Solman asked Wolfers about that disconnect.
Paul Solman: Just this week, we’ve been through an election. Exit polls showed two-third of voters think the economy is getting worse. How does that economic malaise jive with these glowing jobs numbers?
Justin Wolfers: To be honest, I’m puzzled. Unemployment has come down from double digits to 5.8 percent, employment growth has been extremely strong, there’s no inflation anywhere on the horizon. The budget deficit is back below its 40-year average.
All these numbers seem to suggest the economy’s doing well, and in fact, if you ask people, and look at consumer confidence numbers, they also suggest that people think the economy’s doing fine. But for some reason, though, they’re telling exit polls something altogether different. And not just the exit polls — when it came time to being in the voting booth, they voted that way, too.
As Making Sen$e explored online and on the broadcast Friday, plenty of Americans are still feeling squeezed by partialized employment. Nearly 7 million Americans work part-time because they can’t find full-time employment. And an additional 1.2 million, not reported in the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s monthly release, are working multiple part-time jobs whose hours add up to full-time employment, but often without the stability and benefits that most of us associate with a full-time position.
Wages are flat, barely keeping pace with the rate of inflation. Average hourly wages in October saw a measly 3-cent increase. And it’s really wages that shape living standards, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez told the New York Times. Even voters who rejected Democratic candidates on Tuesday embraced ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage in Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
So although strong economic releases have spelled good news for some, “Sweat equity isn’t translating into financial equity,” Perez said. “Even while the C.E.O.s of those companies are reaping dramatic rewards. That’s the angst and frustration that I see across this country.”
And it’s not just a part-time versus full-time issue, said Wolfers. “The challenge is to get everyone into work where they’re going to find meaning, they’re going to get the benefits they need, and they’re able to support they’re family. That’s certainly unfinished business.”
Watch Paul’s interview with Wolfers and part-timers below: