Bloomberg Businessweek | July 29, 2010 | 5:00PM EST
The recession, economists say, technically ended in mid-2009. A year later the unemployment rate is still stuck above 9 percent, and it may take until 2012 for it to reach 8 percent, according to a survey of economists by Bloomberg News. The general explanation for this stubbornly high rate is that companies face an unprecedented era of uncertainty, with questions on the impact of health-care reform, the strength of the real estate market, and the cost of financial regulations all remaining unanswered. Until companies get clarity, they will be reluctant to hire new full-time employees.The job crisis could be seen another way: as a continuation of a trend that started 20 years ago. Before 1990, recessions in the U.S. followed a similar pattern. The downturn would end, and companies would start adding jobs in a little more than two months, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. In 1990-91 hiring began outpacing firing three months after the end of the recession. It took seven months after the 2001 recession’s technical end before hiring trends turned positive, and 27 months before companies hired in large enough numbers to cut seriously into unemployment. This time the lag is even longer.
Economist Allen Sinai, who runs the consulting firm Decision Economics, has an explanation for this emerging pattern. He sees the capital-labor ratio—total capital invested as a percentage of hours worked—as the key to the puzzle. Capital spending boosts productivity and, in the short run at least, often eliminates the need for extra workers on the factory floor or in the office. Continue reading