Lauren D. Appelbaum
Institute for Research on Labor and Employment University of California–Los Angeles
The Great Recession, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, was like none other in most of our lifetimes. No other recession in recent history has had comparable job losses. The second-worst recession, in 1981–1982, saw a drop of 2.8 million jobs, or 3.1 percent of payroll employment. By comparison, job losses from the Great Recession reached 7.9 million jobs, or 5.7 percent of payroll employment from December 2007 until jobs started to consistently increase in October 2010. As recently as February 2012, an additional 8.1 million people found themselves in part-time jobs when they actually wanted to be working full time, either because their hours had been cut or because there were no full-time positions available. At the recession’s peak, the unemployment rate in the country was 10 percent, and over 26 million people were either unemployed, working part time for economic reasons, wanted a job but stopped looking because of personal reasons (e.g., school or family responsibility), or had become too discouraged to continue searching for a job (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012a,b,c).
After nearly two years of recession, the U.S. economy entered a period of slow recovery in the third quarter of 2009. However, despite 11 quarters of gross domestic product (GDP) growth, jobs have just barely started to recover. Job growth was not consistent until October 2010, 16 months after the official end of the recession. Even after this point, job growth remained tepid, and the average job growth for the six months prior to and including February 2012 was still only about 200,000 jobs per month. At this rate, it will take more than eight years—until the end of 2020—to recover the jobs lost since the start of the recession and the approximately 100,000 jobs that should have been gained each month to account for the growth in the working-age population. Even if jobs