Thursday, August 19, 2010

Some Recovery, Half a Million More Unemployed Last Week

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

After more than a year of economic 'recovery', the Department of Labor reported weekly unemployment claims rose to 500,000 last week. Any number at 400,000 or higher indicates recession. The last time weekly claims were below that number was the week of July 17, 2007 - more than three years ago.

The unemployment problem has two components - not enough hiring in the private sector and too many job losses for people who have jobs. The lack of hiring can be seen in the monthly non-farm payrolls report and the too much firing shows up in the weekly unemployment claims. Not all U.S. workers are eligible to collect unemployment however so the weekly claims numbers understate the actual number of people who lost their job. Even with the understatement, unemployment looks bad enough as is.

The number of former workers collecting extended benefits rose to 4,753,456 in the week ending July 31st (the most recent data). This was up 260,105 or over 5% from the previous week. A year earlier in 2009, only 2,961,457 were in this category, which includes people unemployed for over 26 weeks. So the number of people who are long-term unemployed and have not yet exhausted their benefits has risen over 60% in the last year -a year when economic recovery was supposedly taking place.

Since November 2009, the weekly jobless claims have mostly been in the 450,000 to 500,000 range. There is no noticeable trend of improvement. This is amazing, not just because of trillions in deficit spending that the government told us would make the economy better, but over the long-term (and three years is the long-term) this number should automatically drift down. Companies have to have a certain minimal amount of employees to run their operations. As time goes on, the number of people that can be terminated drops significantly and so should weekly unemployment claims. This drop in claims wouldn't mean the economy is getting better, although the mainstream media would blast headlines claiming that was happening, it would mean that there aren't a lot of people left to fire. At this point in the cycle, since claims aren't dropping, business activity has to be continually declining to maintain the same high unemployment numbers. That's the definition of a recession, not a recovery.

Investors should not be surprised if the weekly unemployment claims numbers start looking better soon and for the next couple of months. The U.S. employment situation is a major embarassment for the administation and there is an important election in November. This week, the president is making appearances in  five states to make the case that it was worth borrowing trillions of dollars for stimulus spending and doing so has put America 'back on the road to recovery'. The last nine months of weekly unemployment claims certainly aren't supporting this view. With a statistical adjustment here and there though, the numbers could suddenly look a whole lot better, even if the economy isn't improving at all.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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