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September Jobs Report: Eh

[Guest post by Matt O'Brien]

It is better than zero. That is about the best that can be said about the September jobs report, on the heels of last month's numbers that showed precisely zero jobs added in August. Indeed, the headline number for September of 103,000 jobs added was markedly better, but a deeper dive into the numbers reveal the same disappointing growth we have become inured to during this weak recovery.

The overall unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.1 percent, while the broader U-6 measure that includes discouraged workers and those unable to find full-time work ticked up 0.3 percentage points to 16.5 percent. The better news was that the the jobs numbers for the past two months were revised up by 99,000, and that the private sector managed to add 137,000 jobs this past month. Of course, this latter number is complicated by the fact that 45,000 striking Verizon workers, who were counted as "unemployed" in August, returned to the job rolls in September—meaning, that only 92,000 new private sector jobs were created in the last month. When taken in conjunction with the continued job losses among government workers—34,000 in September—the picture that emerges is of an economy barely able to keep pace with the growth in the population. As Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told me, we need "much faster improvement in aggregate demand than we have been seeing to get a sizeable, noticeable improvement in the jobs situation for people who have lost work."

The situation for the long-term unemployed, meanwhile, continues to look bleak. The long-term jobless, those out of work for six months or longer, now make up 44.6 percent of the total number of unemployed, a slight worsening from the past few months. Burtless told me that this is the crisis policymakers urgently need to address:

Private sector job growth is too weak to offset some of the headwinds caused by governments reducing their payrolls, and meanwhile the population is still growing. Every month it remains like this, there is a worse problem for the long-term unemployed, who become more invisible to employers. It really ramps up how fast the economy needs to grow to absorb these people.

The typical pattern in the United States is that sometimes we have high levels of unemployment, such as when unemployment peaked at 10.8 percent during the 1982 recession. But it is atypical for people to suffer for more than eight to nine months. That differs from the situation from many other advanced economies, such as Europe in the late 1980s and 1990s. But now we are moving towards that pattern.

Indeed, as Felix Salmon dourly notes, it looks like unemployment is here to stay.

Matt O'Brien is an intern at The New Republic.