One of the most basic standards of whether a high school is failing or succeeding is the rate of students going off to college. It's a statistic that typically tells us if that school is properly preparing students for further education. If a school sent 75 percent of its graduates to college, that might look like success. But if you looked deeper and saw that 50 percent of students weren't even graduating, that "success" would look quite hollow.
The employment statistic that the American media focuses on more than any other is the Bureau of Labor Statistics seasonally adjusted employment rate. Right now, that rate stands at 8.1 percent. That's down from a recession high of 10 percent in November 2009. That looks like progress.
However, the standard unemployment rate doesn't paint a whole picture of the job market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics only counts people who are actively looking for work. People in school, working part-time, or who have simply given up looking for a job, aren't counted. In this economy, the number of so-called underemployed Americans has exploded to more than 23 million.
Right now, only 63.5 percent of Americans are working or looking for work--the labor force participation rate. Before the recession, this rate stood at 66 percent. The last time the rate fell this low was 1981.
The unemployment rate has been creeping down in recent months, mainly because people have been dropping out of the work force. In September, there were 96,000 jobs created. In the same month, 368,000 Americans stopped looking for work.
So, what are they doing now?
Some chose to go back to school. For those with the means and the ability, going to grad school or getting more training is a good choice. The higher the degree you have, the more likely you are to have a job right now.
Those going back to school are hoping that by the time they graduate, the job market will have improved. Unfortunately, some of those who chose to get more education during the depth of the recession are now finding themselves with lots of new debt in a still weak job market.
Others drop out of the labor market and into early retirement. Retiring early is rarely something Americans want to do. It means tapping into saving accounts earlier than expected and maintaining a tighter budget.
Younger workers take part-time jobs that lack job security and good benefits. The reduced pay of part-time work is an immense financial hardship. They want to be working full-time, but they simply can't find a job.
We need millions of new jobs to make up for the losses during the recession. Unfortunately, it has been getting harder to do business in the United States. This year, the World Bank ranked the U.S. as the 13th best country to start a new business in. In 2011, we were ranked 11. As recently as 2007, the United States was ranked third.
Federal government regulations are making it harder to start a business. Obamacare and the tens of thousands of pages of regulations still being written make it more complex and more expensive to hire new employees. The new Dodd-Frank law governing lending and banking makes it more complicated to get a loan, but still doesn't get rid of the possibility of more government bailouts for banks that are "too big to fail."
One final statistic. If no one had dropped out of the labor force since the start of the recession, the unemployment rate would be 11.6 percent.
This can't just be about statistics. These percentages represent millions of Americans looking for jobs or so disheartened by their search that they have simply given up. We need an economy that is so vibrant that even people sitting on the sidelines want to jump back into the labor pool.
We need a safety net for the unemployed, but that safety net will never be a substitute for a good-paying job. It's far past time that the Senate take up the dozens of House-passed jobs bills waiting for consideration. We have to tear down the barriers to job creation that have been slowly rising over the past few years.