American Dream image

There are jobs and there are jobs.

In the depths of the Great Recession, a job was a job was a job. Any job would do. Now, 12 million jobs later, we learn that, as regards to housing demand, not so fast.

For all the noise though about how the 65-month jobs recovery streak from 2010 to the present falls short of other economic recoveries, this one will have to do us for now. As Wall Street Journal staffer Andrew Van Dam writes, as part of his five-chart analysis comparing the present jobs recovery to others in recent American history (since the 1930s).

Wall Street Journal piece comparing the current jobs recovery to past ones.

Even with all those caveats in mind, though, the consistency of job growth during this recovery remains a thing of wonder, and is certainly better than the alternative.

Of course, there is a lot of room for improvement, in wage and income growth, in prime working age labor force participation, etc. Have a look at this Harvard Business Review piece from Amy Liu, vp and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

Not all jobs are created equal. Almost one in four working American adults in the United States has a job that pays less than a living wage, and the share of low-wage jobs in the national economy is increasing. According to a report by the National Employment Law Project, 2.3 million more workers are employed in low-wage industries now than at the start of the recession, while 1.2 million fewer are employed in middle- and high-wage industries.

Of course, that's in part because the political will--the collective influence over policy and action--is lacking to do anything differently. We may assert that wage improvement is moving like molasses, but the deep pain, peril, and despair of 2010 was feeling, imagining, and very nearly believing that things would only get worse, that there was a farther down to fall. Instead, what's happened is that jobs--jobs by any definition, including part-time, not-making-enough-to-make-a-living jobs--needed to be plus rather than minus. They needed to be stable rather than unsteady. They needed to exist in a causal relationship to competence, proficiency, and value generation, rather than a factor of cost at risk due to missing end-user demand.

Jobs, at least to some extent, are a way for households to restore their balance sheets (along with rising house prices, forgiven debt, and stock value healing).

Jobs, when they're steady, stable, and relate directly to having one if you do it well, are a feeder of America's belief system, that hard work brings rewards. As households and who make them up and how they work all begin to morph from that married-with-children model that remains emblazoned in many of our minds to something fundamentally and mechanically and sustainably different, we may need to re-engineer economics benchmarks around labor-force participation rates and their relationship with broader economic growth.

One of the rewards that has worked powerfully as America's most compelling incentive program is homeownership. Homeownership adds a level of inclusion where local and regional policy accountability and responsibility are concerned. It's something that forces savings, catalyzes community involvement and care, and can be passed from generation to generation as a durable with asset value.

Once upon a time, before the 1930s, homeownership rates were 40%, rents were soaring, and people were doubled, tripled, and quadrupled up in multigenerational, co-living, and all other manner of household composition combinations.

Then, political will surfaced. The answer to the question, "what's in it for me?" became this, "inclusion for more can mean growth--economic growth--for many, many more."

Have a look at George Casey's "Humpty Dumpty" analysis for more insight. While we may wish that jobs and housing demand match up in a one-to-one correlation, we find that fundamentals work more indirectly than that.

Jobs, plus consumer sentiment, plus motivation and aspiration, are more accurately the equation that drives demand.