A Good Step Forward in a Long Recovery

Today's jobs numbers are the kind needed to close the roaring long-term employment gap.
Welcome back, jobs. Photographer: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Today's payroll figures were a genuinely happy surprise: 288,000 jobs gained in April. Those are great numbers -- enough to absorb all our population growth and put more than a few unemployed people back to work. They suggest hope that the dreadful first-quarter gross domestic product numbers may have been a temporary setback, not a harbinger of things to come.

Of course, jobs figures tend to jump around from month to month. We'll need to live through a few revisions, and a few more months of good jobs numbers, before we can entirely breathe a sigh of relief.

As Justin Wolfers pointed out on Twitter today, however, they are not nearly enough. April's figures still leave net job growth over the last seven years at approximately zero:


Because the working-age population has grown since 2007, this means that almost five years after the recession, we are still not creating enough jobs to reabsorb the workers we lost.

To see just how bad this is, compare our current payroll figures with those after every other postwar recession:


You can't see the final bar for 2007, because it's basically nothing -- just 0.07 percent. To find employment numbers this bad in U.S. history, you'd have to go back to the Great Depression.

This shouldn't keep us from celebrating a genuinely good jobs report. But a genuinely good jobs report shouldn't keep us from remembering just how far we still have to go.

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