Stagnation, stagnation, stagnation

July’s job numbers appear better than June’s, based on today’s jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor, but unemployment ticked upward — another ominous sign that the economy is far from any kind of real recovery four years after the near-collapse of the banking system.

The numbers:

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 163,000 in July, and the unemployment rate was essentially unchanged at 8.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment rose in professional and business services, food services and drinking places, and manufacturing.

In June, just 64,000 jobs were added.

Economists quoted by The New York Times expressed resignation — the report was not a surprise, perhaps not as bad as it could be, but we should not expect much improvement for the rest of the year.

“It’s a lot better than we’d been seeing in the last few months, but it’s still short of the kind of job growth we were seeing at the beginning of this year,” said Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics.

As for the pace of hiring through the rest of the year, he said, “I think this is about as good as it’s going to get.”

For context, the economy now produces as many goods and services — more, in fact — than it did before the downturn officially began in December 2007. But it does so with almost five million fewer jobs.

And the rate at which the economy has been adding jobs in the last few months is just barely fast enough to absorb the growth in the labor force.

“In the weakest recovery since the Great Depression, nearly the entire reduction in unemployment since October 2009 has been accomplished through a significant drop in the percentage of adults participating in the labor force — either working or looking for work,” said Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland.


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