336,000 New Jobs in September? Unemployment rate 3.4%? The Dismal Truth behind the Happy Headlines

The September jobs report from the U.S. government said that 336,000 new jobs were created last month, and that the official unemployment rate was steady at 3.4%. The job growth number was substantially higher than what economists had projected. However, as more details come out, these numbers don’t look so good for working people.

45% of the new jobs created are part-time. The actual number of full-time jobs dropped in September by 22,000.  In the last three months, part-time jobs increased by 1.2 million while full-time fell 700 thousand. The unemployment rate highlighted by the government doesn’t include workers who have stopped looking for work because the jobs being offered don’t pay enough to live on or would require moving to another region of the country. It also doesn’t count workers who are working part-time but want full time jobs. Taking all these workers into account, the unemployment rate is 7%.

Part-time hourly wages are almost always lower than full-time wages for the same kind of work.  Many of the 168,000 part-time jobs created in September were taken by people who already had a full-time job. Even many relatively well-paid workers, making $45/hour, take part-time work just to keep up with bills. Weekly wages, adjusted for the loss of buying power thanks to inflation, are now 5% lower than they were in January of 2021. 

Not only is the current economic situation not as rosy as the pro-business commentators on TV like to say, but it will likely get worse. The rate of Inflation has dropped from its highpoint, but it is likely to remain in the 3-to-4 percent range. The monthly total of new orders for manufactured products is starting to drop. Automation will continue to kill jobs.  

Sometime in 2024 the economy may sink into a new crisis, combining inflationary increases in the price of the things we buy while people who now have jobs will face layoffs. The combination of inflation and no growth in jobs, or even worse, widespread layoffs, is called “stagflation”. Stagflation affects profits and the bosses will try to save their profits at the expense of workers’ jobs and wages.

When capitalism faces a downturn in profits, it responds by attempting to intensify attacks on our working conditions, paychecks, and benefits.  We can fight back and even defeat their attacks temporarily; but as long as the capitalist system lasts, we will always live under the threat of an economic crisis. We need a different system altogether, one run by working people for the benefit of the whole population, not the profits of the few.