David Rosenberg thinks the unemployment rate is headed much higher than anyone anticipates. If you recall, back in January when the stimulus package was crafted, the Obama Administration felt that passing the bill would mean an unemployment rate which would top out at 8.0%. As the situation deteriorated, the President recognized that 10.0% was more likely – a number we just got last week. But Rosenberg is the only one (except Meredith Whitney) who is talking about 12-13%.
As an aside, it was interesting to hear Whitney at about 3:15 into the third video in the link above from July. Right before she gives us the dreaded 13% number, she admits to lowballing her house price decline estimates in order not to be dismissed as wildly out of step with consensus. That pressure is something I discussed here.
Here’s what Rosenberg says:
There are serious structural issues undermining the U.S. labour market as companies continue to adjust their order books, production schedules and staffing requirements to a semi-permanently impaired credit backdrop. The bottom line is that the level of credit per unit of GDP is going to be much, much lower in the future than has been the case in the last two decades. While we may be getting close to a bottom in terms of employment, the jobless rate is very likely going to be climbing much further in the future due to the secular dynamics within the labour market.
But in a nutshell, to be calling for a 12.0-13.0% unemployment rate is meaningless except that it is very likely going to be a headline grabber. The most inclusive definition of them all, the U6 measure of the unemployment rate, which includes all forms of unemployed and underemployed, is already at 17.5%. The posted U3 jobless rate that everyone focuses on is at 10.2% (though if it weren’t for the drop in the labour force participation rate, to 65.1% from 66.0% a year ago, the unemployment rate would be testing the post-WWII high of 10.8% right now). The gap between the U6 and the official U3 rate is at a record 7.3 percentage points. Normally this spread is between 3-4 percentage points and ultimately we will see a reversion to the mean, to some unhappy middle where the U6 may be closer to 15.0-16.0% and the posted jobless rate closer to 12%. This will undoubtedly be a major political issue, especially in the context of a mid-term elections and the GOP starting to gain some electoral ground.
As I indicated when the employment numbers came out last week, we should expect the labor force participation rate to increase during recovery as discouraged workers come back into the labor force. The fact that the opposite is still happening means the unemployment rate will move higher (although 13% is sure to induce a double dip and I am not seeing this as a base case at this time).
Rosenberg’s political calculus also seems accurate. In my post, “the politics of economics” I said that President Obama needs to take more blunt measures to deal with the unemployment situation head on. Indirect measures are not going to be effective enough to prevent Democratic losses in 2010. Moreover, a recent poll released by Gallup today says that Republicans have now edged ahead of Democrats for 2010. If we see 12 or 13% unemployment, it will be much, much worse than that for the Democrats – and if Obama thinks getting his agenda through now is difficult, wait until 2011 when he may have to contend with more Republicans in Congress.
More of Rosenberg at the link below.