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America's two economies

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Richard Drew / AP

(Read caption) A board on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shows the closing number for the Dow Jones Industrial average Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. The Dow Jones industrial average closed above 12,000 Tuesday for the first time in 2 1/2 years. But guest blogger Robert Reich asks if the job market can recover, too.

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At a time when corporate profits are through the roof, the Dow is flirting with 12,000, Wall Street paychecks are fat again, and big corporations are sitting on more than $1 trillion in cash, you’d expect jobs be coming back. But you’d be wrong.

The U.S. economy added just 36,000 jobs in January, according to today’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Remember, 125,000 are needed just to keep up with the increase in the population of Americans wanting and needing work. And 300,000 a month are needed — continuously, for five years — if we’re to get back to anything like the employment we had before the Great Recession.

In other words, today’s employment report should be sending alarm bells all over official Washington. Granted, unusually bad weather may have accounted for some of the reluctance of employers to hire in January. But even considering the weather, the economy is still terribly sick. (Technical note: The official rate of unemployment fell to 9 percent from 9.4 percent, but that’s because more workers have left the labor market, too discouraged to continue looking for work. The official rate reflects how many people are actively looking for work.)

We have two economies. The first is in recovery. The second remains in a continuous depression.

The first is a professional, college-educated, high-wage economy centered in New York and Washington, that’s living well off of global corporate profits. Corporations continue to make money by selling abroad from their foreign operations while cutting costs (especially labor) here at home. Wall Street is making money by taking the Fed’s free money and speculating with it. The richest 10 percent of Americans, holding 90 percent of all financial assets, are riding the wave. And their upscale spending has given high-end retailers and producers a bounce.

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