How bad was it? At 6.1 percent, the August unemployment rate stood at a five-year high; 84,000 nonfarm jobs were lost and the losses in June and July were revised upward by 51,000 to 100,000 and 60,000 jobs, respectively. The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index slipped again in August, falling 0.5 percent from May to 110.8; the indicator is down more than eight percent from August 2007. The index “continues to rapidly deteriorate,” according to Gad Levanon, senior economist at the Conference Board, and the “pace of the decline points toward job losses and rising unemployment extending well into 2009.”
In a statement issued on September 5, the White House called the numbers “disappointing,” but reminded everyone that “what is most important is the overall direction the economy is headed.” Why just “last week, the economy posted a strong gain of 3.3 percent at an annual rate in the second quarter,” the White House boasted. Unless something’s changed, the second quarter ended on June 30, so the GDP figure is a then, not now, indicator.
And the reasons for the growth are history: The money from the stimulus package has been spent or saved; the strong export market is teetering as the U.S. dollar strengthens and Japan, the U.K., and Europe sink into recession. Japan has announced a modest stimulus program; the Bank of England and the European Central Bank are holding their rates steady. Meanwhile, the ECB will impose a 12 percent haircut on the asset-backed securities it accepts for collateral, a step analysts believe could impair liquidity in the euro zone. Stay tuned.