WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy has finally regained the jobs lost to the Great Recession. But go easy on the hallelujahs. The comeback is far from complete.
Friday’s report from the government revealed an economy healing yet marked by deep and lasting scars. The downturn that began 6½ years ago accelerated wrenching changes that have left many Americans feeling worse off than they did the last time the economy had roughly the same number of jobs it does now.
Employers added 217,000 workers in May, more than enough to surpass the 138.4 million jobs that existed when the recession began in December 2007. But even as the unemployment rate has slipped to 6.3 percent from 10 percent at the depth of the recession, the economy still lacks its former firepower.
To many economists, the job figures are both proof of the sustained recovery and evidence of a painful transformation in how Americans earn a living.
“The labor market recovery has been disappointing,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. “Even with the new peak, there is still a great deal of slack.”
There are still 1.49 million construction jobs missing. Factories have 1.65 million fewer workers. Many of these jobs have been permanently replaced by new technologies: robots, software and advanced equipment that speeds productivity and requires less manpower, said Patrick O’Keefe, director of economic research for the advisory and consulting firm CohnReznick.
“When heavy things need to be moved, we now have machines to do it,” O’Keefe said. “It is unlikely in the manufacturing sector that we recover much of the losses.”
Government payrolls have shrunk, taking middle class pay with them. Local school districts have 255,400 fewer employees. The U.S. Postal Service has shed 194,700 employees.
And during the economic recovery, more people have left the job market than entered it. Just 58.9 percent of working-age Americans have jobs, down from 62.7 percent at the start of the recession.