Massive job losses in pretty colors

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Here they finally are. The monthly charts!


So this recession, while now clearly easing, is a lot worse than the last five. But you knew that. It’s the comparison with the Great Depression that remains interesting. Below is my comparison, compiled with help from Sebastian Dartevelle at Los Alamos National Laboratory, of job losses after employment peaked in 1929 and in 2007. The reason we had to tweak the straight numbers is that the payroll data cover only nonfarm employment, and nonfarm employment was a significantly smaller percentage of overall employment in the 1930s than it is today. So instead of just looking at the percentage decline in payroll employment, we look at the decline in payroll employment as a percentage of the total working-age population. The numbers (unlike those in the chart above) are not seasonally adjusted because I’ve not aware of any seasonally adjusted jobs data for the 1930s:

Great_Depression1It should be noted that this way of measuring things understates how bad things were in the Depression, because it assumes away the existence of agricultural job losses. Back then farming was still mostly a family affair, so presumably many farmers were able to keep living off the land even when demand for their products dried up. But it sure didn’t work out like that for the Joads. One of these days I should probably put together a straight percentage job-loss version again, just to compare. Not today. I do, however, have a chart comparing the job losses since last October with those beginning in October 1929. In both cases, October was the month where the real financial panic occurred. And when you start with the same month, it ceases to be a problem that the numbers aren’t seasonally adjusted:

Great_Recession2Not what I’d call a reassuring chart. In the 1930s, payroll job losses eventually passed 11% of the”labor-able” population. We’re currently at 3.35% since the beginning of this recession, so we’ve got an awfully long way to go before we get there—and every Wall Street economist and his brother sent out e-mails today declaring the current recession over. But just look at the chart: the trajectory so far isn’t all that different from that of the first months of the Great Depression.