In my previous post, I reviewed the past five recessions to provide one backdrop for business strategy. In this post, I’ll discuss jobs and household income: two of the underlying issues that make our current crisis unlike past recessions.

We’re still in the storm, but we can already see some of the likely contours of the future business environment. Jobs and household income were increasing at glacial rates long before the crisis and ongoing downward pressure is anticipated. To the extent that the fitness of our individual enterprises is tied to a general “rising tide,” said tide is lifting fewer boats and not as high.

Like global warming, we frequently have a vague recognition of the trends in job and income growth but without scale or detail. Let’s take a look.

Job creation was a crisis before the recession
Last April, financial blogger Hale Stewart assembled a fact-filled critique of the recent economic expansion (2002-2007).  He included a version of this graph showing that expansions in the 1960s and 1970s grew jobs at about 3% per year. In the 1990s expansion, job growth dropped to 2% per year. Then, in the 2000s, job growth flat lined for 29 months before eking out an average 1% annual growth – not even enough to absorb the 1.25% annual growth in the labor force.

employment_cycles_dave_588

Most people lost ground in the last economic expansion
Throughout the recent presidential campaign, we heard a growing angst about the plight of the middle class. The bottom line is that median household income, adjusted for inflation, has stopped rising. Stewart offers this Census graph with the comment: “Real median household income is now at the same level it was in 2001.”

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