As Time Goes By, Is the Economy Getting Better or Worse?

It’s time to look back two years ago and see what happened. The trough of the unemployment situation started October 2008 and abated some by April 2009. The losses in those months were historic: -554,000, -728,000, -673,000, -779,000, -726,000, -753,000, and -528,000. A normal really bad month is -250,000. These numbers were 3 times that. All told some 4,741,000 jobs were lost during this time period and remember, this is just the bottom of the trough.

As time passes employment seems to be improving. Just today a key benchmark was surpassed: the weekly jobless claims fell below 400,000 for the first time in two years. These are people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time.

Two years is 104 weeks and unemployment benefits last, at their longest, 99 weeks. It’s estimated that 3,500,000 people are no longer eligible. This social safety net, weak as it is, is gone for an additional 1.13% of the US population. There are two questions now. First, have, or will, these individuals acquire skills that are needed in the marketplace? Second, are they geographically trapped (can they move to a location that does need their skills)? Perhaps it’s a new era of the migrant worker. “Make no mistake, moving is living.”

The answers to these questions will have potentially costly effects on the US economy as conditions slowly improve.

Which reminds me of a year ago. I saw and enjoyed a George Clooney movie called Up in the Air. Clooney plays an employee of a company that conducts lay offs for other companies. Although, the movie coincided with a year into the recession (end of 2009) the theme was about layoffs. There were several scenes featuring people who are shocked, heart broken, and terrified about what is next for them. It’s a stomach punch.

A year or so later comes another similar movie called The Company Men. It stars Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones as three men let go from their jobs. The movie is about their emotional fight of being someone who no longer has a work identity. But as Up in the Air was about ending the employment relationship, The Company Men is about redefining it.


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