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America’s Three Deficits

BERKELEY – This year began with a series of reports providing tantalizing evidence that economic recovery in the United States is strengthening. The pace of job creation has increased, indicators for manufacturing and services have improved, and consumption spending has been stronger than anticipated. But it is too early to celebrate.

Output growth in the US remains anemic, and the economy continues to face three significant deficits: a jobs deficit, an investment deficit, and a long-run fiscal deficit, none of which is likely to be addressed in an election year.

Although output is now higher than it was in the fourth quarter of 2007, it remains far below what could be produced if labor and capacity were fully utilized. That gap – between actual and potential output – is estimated at more than 7% of GDP (more than $1 trillion).

The output gap reflects a deficit of more than 12 million jobs – the number of jobs needed to return to the economy’s peak 2007 employment level and absorb the 125,000 people who enter the labor force each month. Even if the economy grows at 2.5% in 2012, as most forecasts anticipate, the jobs deficit will remain – and will not be closed until 2024.