Yes, Friday night’s employment figures were better than expected: just 216,000 jobs went last month and the unemployment rate rose to 9.7% because more people went looking for work, a sign of increasing confidence among the unemployed.

And yet that’s a bit of a mirage because it hides the continuing pain and agony across thousands of American cities and towns.

As well, five more American banks failed on Friday night in another few hours of financial bloodletting in the US heartland: all were small and 89 have now collapsed so far this year. That’s another part of the picture with job losses in some towns and cities and rising bad debts starting to impact on financial institutions.

The economic slowdown may be reversing itself (American economists are talking about growth of 3-4% annual for the rest of this year, and surging corporate profits, but millions of Americans are being left behind having lost their houses, their jobs, having hours and pay cut and worse, more than 34 million are on some sort of government food aid, so desperate are their circumstances.

It’s rotten [pdf]. This recession has been so tough that the powerhouse of US growth, the private sector, has seen the loss of so many jobs that employment is now lower than it was back in 1999 when the tech and net booms was flourishing.

  • 223,000 fewer people were employed in the US private sector last month than in August, 1999, and yet the American population has grown by about 33 million people in that decade.
  • 131.2 million was the estimated number of people employed in the private sector in the US in August, down 6.9 million people since the slump started in December 2007.
  • 7.4 million is the estimated rise in unemployment since then, which means it has nearly doubled to 14.9 million last month.
  • 198,000 was the drop in private sector employment in August and that took private sector employment under the level it was in 1999. So what about Government jobs?
  • 2.1 million US jobs were created from 1999 to this year, but that is actually the worst performance for the Government sector in any 10-year period since the recession of 17 years ago.
  • 544,000 jobs in healthcare have been created since the recession started in December 2007. Now these are not high-paying jobs, mostly low-paid hourly labour as attendants, assistants etc. No matter, Americans are working shorter and their income isn’t setting the world on fire.
  • 33.1 in the number of hours Americans worked last month, down 0.3% and the lowest since this figure was first collected back in 1964.
  • 14.9 million is now the number of unemployed, long-term unemployed reached 9.1 million last month, up 278,000 from July. This figure is greater than the 216,000 overall loss in US jobs in the month.
  • 5 million is now the number of people who’ve been out of work longer than six months, around one-third of the unemployed, while another measure of underemployment that includes discouraged workers and those forced to resort to part-time work, rose to 16.8% from 16.3%, the highest on record dating back to 1995.
  • 6 cents was the rise on US average hourly earnings on the month (or 0.3%), to $US18.65 ($A21.90) an hour. In the past year, average hourly earnings are up 2.6%.
  • 6.6% was the increase in US productivity in the June quarter, a performance that has gotten some economists and every corporate analyst salivating. Economists because they just love productivity increases because they tell a good story and make the economy, well, more productive; analysts because the increase will mean a surge in corporate earnings over the next few quarters with business costs rising because unit labour costs are falling.
  • That improvement comes at a horrible cost and is the downside of the green shoot’s story. As Fed chairman Ben Bernanke has warned time and again, the recovery, when it comes, will be slow and won’t feel like a recovery because unemployment will be high. And this is a male recession (as it is here in Australia).
  • 10.1% is the unemployment rate for adult men in the US, “whites (8.9%), and Hispanics (13.0%) rose in August. The jobless rates for adult women (7.6%), — teenagers (25.5%), and blacks (15.1%) were little changed over the month. The unemployment rate for Asians was 7.5%, not seasonally adjusted,” The US department of Labor said in its release.

No matter what any of the hindsight economists claim about the Australian recession, it’s clear we have had nothing of the sort. Ordinary Americans are the real victims of this crunch. Their lives and their futures have been destroyed by the millions and will continue to do so for months to come.

Back in 1991, The New York Times carried this story about a sharp increase in the number of people receiving food stamps — 23.6 million.

Now this story from last month tells us that more than 34 million people are receiving them. Or one in nine Americans. If it was Australia, it would be about 2.3 million people if we had a similar program and a similar lack of a social safety net. In parts of California, Nevada and Indiana unemployment rates of 15% to 18% are common.