Private Sector vs. Public Sector

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Here is Steve Benen’s chart showing private sector job gains and losses over the past few years:

Why look only at private sector jobs? Matt Yglesias suggests three tightly constrained reasons: it’s good spin for the White House, it controls for one-time census gains and losses, and then there’s a third thing about a conservative argument that I don’t understand.

But the fact is that both total jobs and private sector jobs are important to look at. If you simply want to know how the actual, lived economy is doing, then you want to look at all jobs. After all, a job’s a job, and if people are employed and getting a paycheck, that’s a good thing. But that’s not the only thing we should be interested in. In the medium term, government jobs can’t support the economy forever. Sustained growth depends on the private sector, so it’s critical to know how the private sector is doing. If it’s improving, that means we can look forward to the economy starting to recover by itself without a lot of further federal intervention. But if the private sector is stalling, we can’t.

That’s important to know. And based on these figures, it sure looks as if, after a year of recovery, the private sector has stalled for the past three quarters. Who knows? Maybe things will magically turn around shortly. But that sure doesn’t look like the right way to bet right now. More stimulus, please.

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