Today’s jobs numbers, as I understand them, are pretty bad. When you factor out the Census, we’re not actually losing jobs, but we’re only gaining them at a pace that would be disappointing even in a full employment scenario. With unemployment sky high, what you want to see is the volume of employment increase substantially faster than the population rate. And you want to see that for month after month after month. Today’s number doesn’t come close to meeting that standard. To pivot away from stimulus at this point to a conversation about retrenchment is to accept de facto that 9 percent unemployment is “the new normal” and that we’ll probably get down to that level largely through labor force shrinkage—people give up and thus become merely non-working rather than “unemployed.”

There isn’t, however, any good reason to do this. There are millions of Americans who were gainfully employed in 2006 who are no longer gainfully employed today but who have the physical capacity to produce useful goods and services. There are also millions of young Americans who weren’t in the labor force in 2006 but who have all the basic attributes of people capable of producing useful goods and services, who are currently sitting idle.