There is nothing good to say about the December employment report, which showed that only 74,000 jobs were added last month. But dismal as it was, the report came at an opportune political moment. The new numbers rebut the Republican arguments that jobless benefits need not be renewed, and that the current minimum wage is adequate. At the same time, they underscore the need, only recently raised to the top of the political agenda, to combat poverty and inequality.
The report showed that average monthly job growth in 2013 was 182,000, basically unchanged from 2012. Even the decline in the jobless rate last month, from 7 percent in November to 6.7 percent, was a sign of weakness: It mainly reflects a shrinking labor force — not new hiring — as the share of workers employed or looking for work fell to the lowest level since 1978. That’s a tragic waste of human capital. It would be comforting to ascribe the dwindling labor force mainly to retirements or other long-term changes, but most of the decline is due to weak job opportunities and weak labor demand since the Great Recession.
One result is that the share of jobless workers who have been unemployed for six months or longer has remained stubbornly high. In December, it was nearly 38 percent, still higher by far than at any time before the Great Recession, in records going back to 1948.
And yet, nearly 1.3 million of those long-term unemployed had their federal jobless benefits abruptly cut off at the end...