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Trump Inherits the White-Guy Jobs Deficit

Mark Whitehouse writes editorials on global economics and finance for Bloomberg View. He covered economics for the Wall Street Journal and served as deputy bureau chief in London. He was previously the founding managing editor of Vedomosti, a Russian-language business daily.
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When portraying the state of the economy during his presidential campaign, Donald Trump tended to focus on broad measures of unemployment, such as the percentage of the total population that lacks a job. As he begins his term in office, this indicator still look pretty daunting -- particularly for the middle-aged white males who comprise a large share of his supporters.

Overall, the Labor Department's latest jobs report portrays an economy growing at a steady pace. Nonfarm employers added an estimated 227,000 jobs in January, bringing the three-month average to 196,000, more than enough to compensate for natural growth in the labor force. The unemployment rate edged up to 4.8 percent -- still a very low number -- as the number of people actively seeking work rose.

As Trump has rightly noted, though, the headline unemployment rate doesn't capture everyone who might want work. Millions of people are not searching actively, a prerequisite for being counted as unemployed. Hence, it's useful to look at another measure: The share of people in their prime working years (age 25 to 54) who actually have jobs.

As of January, that number stood at 78.2 percent, or about 2.3 million jobs short of what would have been considered normal before the recession of 2007 to 2009. Here's how that looks:

Distance From "Normal"
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg

Digging down further, it’s possible to see how specific genders and races are faring. White males, for example, were still about 1.2 million jobs from normal (using a three-month average of seasonally unadjusted data). As a percentage of the population, that's a bigger gap than for any other group -- though it's important to note that the base employment level for white males was relatively high to begin with. Here's a breakdown by race and gender:

Distance From "Normal" by Race and Gender
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg
Note: Data are averages of seasonally unadjusted data for three months through January. A negative value means that the group has exceeded its pre-recession level. *Gender breakdown not available

In short, it looks like the people who contributed most to Trump's voter base are also among the farthest from their accustomed level of employment. The president's actions -- such as bullying companies into keeping manufacturing jobs in the Midwest -- suggest he understands this on some level and wants to get them back to normal. The extent to which that might happen at others' expense remains to be seen.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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Mark Whitehouse at

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James Greiff at