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January 15, 2014

THEIR VIEW: Different hard times with same old answers

There was a time when issues of income inequality were dealt with by an expanding economy. That’s why an expanding private economy is more important to the well-being of people than an expanding government economy.

But we don’t deal that way with our economic challenges anymore, and we are paying for it dearly here in Grant County, where a solid core of unemployed and generational poverty seems impervious to government programming and might even be strengthened by it.

This is the “new normal,” which frankly has been the old normal for some time in our community. The entire U.S. economy added only 74,000 jobs last month, the first evidence that the labor market is in for a rough year, says Ball State economist Michael Hicks.

The news shocked many economists, who were anticipating the U.S. labor market to expand by 193,000 jobs. The economy added 203,000 jobs in November.

Hicks says total non-farm job creation is a fraction of the rate that a solid recovery needs to reduce large-scale unemployment.

“More troubling, of those jobs, 31,000 were part time for economic reasons,” he says. “Even more worrisome was that the labor force declined by a whopping 347,000 persons. So, out of every 10 new jobs created last month, four were part time and 46 people were looking for work.”

The growth in part time, we think, is at least partially related to the burden of the Affordable Care Act, which discourages full-time employment. Employers, wishing to stay as distant from the expensive and dysfunctional program as is legal, are inclined to hire two people and keep them at part-time hours rather than one full-time person and come under government command for the health insurance made available to that individual.

That there is a dearth in employment opportunity is clear. This administration and Congress, state and local government too, have no novel answers to what is becoming a historically novel situation in which the economy measured by the stock market and the cash on hand in the private sector is healthy but employment is not.

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