Behind the struggle to find full-time work are troubling economic trends. The big question is when, or whether, the labor market can heal from the recessions damage.

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I recommend Janet Tu’s story in today’s Seattle Times, about the number of people who want full-time jobs but are forced to work part time. In Washington, as in the nation as a whole, it remains higher than before the Great Recession.

At best, it is a sign of a still-damaged labor market. At worst, a sign of things to come, an ugly new normal.

The most revealing statistic from the U.S. Department of Labor is the U-6 unemployment rate, which tracks the total unemployed, involuntary part-timers, plus those who have given up actively searching for a job. At the end of the second quarter, it was 11.7 percent for Washington. (The “official” jobless rate was 5.3 percent in June).

To be sure, that’s better than the 18.4 percent of 2010, but hardly a real recovery for workers. No wonder that in May of this year an astonishing 1.06 million Washingtonians were on food stamps.

Nationally, U-6 fell to 10.4 percent by July but it remains high by historical standards for this far into a recovery. In December of 2000, it stood at 6.9 percent.

Some of this is no doubt cyclical and the slow comeback from so many jobs being destroyed in the Great Recession. It has been made worse by federal austerity and failure to create jobs by building infrastructure that would more than repay its investment costs.

But other factors are at work. Automation and offshoring of jobs has hollowed out the middle ground that once provided the backbone of employment. There are many low-paying jobs, a relatively smaller number for high-skilled workers in the right industries — but much of the middle is gone. And going: A new era of advanced robots and artificial intelligence will take even more human jobs.

Industry consolidation has been another factor taking away employment and pathways up. Where, say, one bank now stands where two dozen used to be, there are so many fewer jobs, including at headquarters for a promising graduate in economics. Age discrimination is real. “Looks privilege” matters.

I don’t have the answer. Labor mobility used to be one — people moved to states that offered better prospects. But the oil bust will soon catch up with South Dakota (U-6, 6.7 percent). And it’s hard to imagine a place offering better prospects than the booming Puget Sound region.

But nationally we still haven’t made up the lost jobs. Until we do, too many people will be working part time, often holding down more than one job, wondering what went wrong.


Today’s Econ Haiku:

Bull, meet China shop

But the story takes a twist

The bears are inside