Roubini: For unemployment "the worst is yet to come"


Nouriel Roubini, writing in the New York Daily News , said on Sunday that “unemployed Americans should hunker down for more job losses” given the likelihood of a job less recovery. This was as gloomy a piece as I have seen from Roubini in the past few months. He has clearly become more downbeat about the long-term picture for the U.S. economy.

The article begins:

Think the worst is over? Wrong. Conditions in the U.S. labor markets are awful and worsening. While the official unemployment rate is already 10.2% and another 200,000 jobs were lost in October, when you include discouraged workers and partially employed workers the figure is a whopping 17.5%…

…we can expect that job losses will continue until the end of 2010 at the earliest. In other words, if you are unemployed and looking for work and just waiting for the economy to turn the corner, you had better hunker down. All the economic numbers suggest this will take a while. The jobs just are not coming back.

This sounds dire. As a result, Roubini goes on to call on the Obama Administration to take direct action on jobs. Extending unemployment benefits is not going to cut it.  Roubini says we need:

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a bold prescription that increases the fiscal stimulus with another round of labor-intensive, shovel-ready infrastructure projects, helps fiscally strapped state and local governments and provides a temporary tax credit to the private sector to hire more workers. Helping the unemployed just by extending unemployment benefits is necessary not sufficient; it leads to persistent unemployment rather than job creation.

long-term-unemployment With statistics showing that the rate of long-term joblessness is at the highest since the Great Depression, Roubini joins an increasing number of economists who are calling on the Obama Administration to take the employment situation more seriously.

Paul Krugman has said that we are now in a liquidity trap. Therefore, we need to subsidize jobs and promote work sharing as Germany is doing.

I have made similar arguments about quantitative easing for the past year. Monetary policy is effectively useless – and is merely creating bubbles.

The Obama Administration is moving into deficit hawk mode at the wrong time as this will only worsen the jobs situation and lead to a double dip recession. Instead, I have called for a payroll tax cut or a job subsidy.

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Randall Wray, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, has also offered a unique job solution.

All of this is urgent, as Roubini indicates:

Based on my best judgment, it is most likely that the unemployment rate will peak close to 11% and will remain at a very high level for two years or more.

The weakness in labor markets and the sharp fall in labor income ensure a weak recovery of private consumption and an anemic recovery of the economy, and increases the risk of a double dip recession…

The damage will be extensive and severe unless bold policy action is undertaken now.

The Obama Administration is taking an ‘indirect’ approach. They do so for three reasons. First, they are afraid of being boxed in politically by taking more direct measures. They also see a need to defend their previous policy decisions.  But, Mark Thoma thinks part of the resistance to more direct measures is ideological.  In a post earlier today, he says:

Growth policy is an attempt to make the economy grow faster, and stabilization policy attempts to keep the economy as close as possible to that trend, i.e. to avoid business cycles.

When Republicans had the political microphone, they emphasized growth policy (because it allowed them to argue for what they really wanted, lower taxes, growth policy was simply the vehicle that allowed them to get there), and this was supported by academic work from people such as Robert Lucas who claimed that, from a welfare perspective, stabilization was of second order concern, growth policy was where policymakers should focus their effort if they wanted to enhance welfare. Summers’ remarks reflect this type of thinking.

The Obama Administration’s approach of focusing on deficit reduction without enough direct job measures is sure to keep unemployment elevated. In looking at the politics of economics I said recently:

I see jobs as the first area for Obama to attack. The question is whether he does this directly via some modified private-sector controlled W.P.A.-type program or indirectly via something like a payroll tax cut. After jobs comes foreclosure. Personal income and taxes are the least important area going forward (especially as any tax cuts will either increase deficit spending or have to be made up by tax increases elsewhere).

The Obama Administration is doing the opposite. They seem to have received the ‘deficit reduction comes first takeaway’ from recent state elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and New York instead of the ‘jobs come first takeaway.’ That is bad news for Democrats and it is also bad news for the hopes of a sustained recovery.


The worst is yet to come: Unemployed Americans should hunker down for more job losses – Nouriel Roubini, NY Daily News
Job Losses Mount, Enduring and Deep – Floyd Norris, NY Times (the long-term unemployment image is also from this story)

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