WASHINGTON — The nation's slowly improving jobs picture hides problems like stagnant wages and fewer working hours that strike directly at President Barack Obama's base of support — young people, racial minorities and the less affluent.
As the president launches a new focus on jobs, his traditional allies contend Obama has put too much of an emphasis on a deficit-cutting grand bargain with Republicans at the expense of creating jobs.
New college graduates face a downbeat labor market. The unemployment rate for workers under age 25 with at least a bachelor's degree has averaged 8.2 percent, compared to 5.4 percent in 2007. The government's April jobs report showed a decline in average weekly hours worked, and much of the growth was in predominantly low-wage sectors such as food services and drinking places and retail trade. And a new study found that nearly 2 million private-sector employees paid with taxpayer dollars earn wages too low to support a family.
"My point is that we've got to shift the national mood toward high wage and investment in America as opposed to cutting every federal program and having this austerity-based deficit-reduction thrust," said Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus.
The economy has created 6.8 million private-sector jobs over the past 38 months, but nearly 12 million remain unemployed. The unemployment rate edged down to 7.5 percent from 7.6 percent in March and has fallen 0.4 percentage point since the start of the year, though it remains high.
Obama's job creation proposals have stalled in Congress and have been met instead by immediate budget cuts that by most accounts have created a drag on the economic recovery. After winning a tax increase on the top 1 percent of income earners, Obama has insisted against unified Republican opposition on more tax increases to help close deficits. The resulting stalemate has limited Obama's response.