A Jobless Recovery?

In recent posts I’ve suggested various ways of looking at the national job numbers. In “Unemployment Numbers: The Long View,” I used a simple “back to pre-recession jobs” threshold to compare the 2007 recession and recovery to the trajectories of all other postwar recessions. In “Back to Full Employment” (posted at the Center for Economic and Policy Research Blog), I added three other thresholds or targets: the December 2007 unemployment rate, the December 2007 unemployment and labor force participation rates, and the “full employment” unemployment and labor force participation rates of the late 1990s. In “The Good Jobs Deficit,” I used the Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational projections for 2010-20 to drive home the importance of considering the quality of whatever jobs we might add.

One more run at these numbers is, I think, instructive. At the suggestion of Chris Brenner, I’ve tweaked the graphic comparing all postwar recessions to isolate the recovery phase of each business cycle. The first metric, “since the start of recession,” tracks non-farm jobs by month from the onset of each downturn, until the job numbers return to their pre-recession level. The second metric, “since start of recovery,” tracks non-farm jobs from the trough of each recession for four years (or until the start of the next business cycle). This throws into sharp relief the peculiar character of our more recent recoveries. From the 1940s through the 1980s, recovery was accompanied by significant job growth—on the order of between 10 and 20 percent after four years. In our last three recessions, by contrast, we actually continued to lose jobs through the first months of “recovery,” and then added jobs at a glacial pace.

In 2003-4 and again over the last three years, this combination is often passed off as a curiosity: a “jobless recovery” in which the economy gets better but the labor market doesn’t. But that’s not really what’s happening. Job growth is slow because the recovery is slow. From the 1940s through the 1980, recoveries were relatively short and robust—usually adding about 10 percent to GDP in the first two years after the trough of the business cycle. In the 1991-3 recovery, GDP grew only 6 percent. In 2001-3, GDP grew only 5.9 percent. In the first two years of our current recovery (through July 2011), GDP grew only 4.4 percent. That’s not a jobless recovery. It’s no recovery at all.

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.

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