As job creation appears to be settling into a slow, steady climb, one piece of the more encouraging recent data stands out: more than 60 percent of the jobs added since the beginning of 2010 can be attributed to companies with fewer than 500 employees.
The robust jobs report released by the Labor Department just before the Fourth of July weekend reinforced this point. The June numbers showed job growth across almost every sector for the economy, again with strong help from some of the most advanced high-technology sectors where smaller start-ups are common. Employment in computer systems design, architectural and engineering services, software and Internet publishing is now more than 12 percent higher than were before the recession.
Perhaps no surprise then that a former factory turned tech jobs incubator called 1776 was the destination of choice as the White House scrambled to arrange a last minute event for President Obama to talk up the new numbers.
“We just got the jobs report today,” said Obama, “showing that we have now seen the fastest job growth in the United States in the first half of the year since 1999.” It’s also the first time since then that the U.S. has seen five consecutive months of job growth over 200,000. Companies have added 9.7 million jobs over the course of 52 straight months such job growth.
No doubt, a win for the Obama Administration yet public opinion polling still shows profound economic anxiety.
Stressing the importance of entrepreneurship, and noting the supporting role that startups and new businesses have played in the June jobs report, the president called 1776 "an incubator for all sorts of tech startups."
Recently, the White House and the Federal Reserve have made a point of publically recognizing the power of companies without real estate on Wall Street.
“About 85 percent of nonfarm employment is in the private sector, which traditionally is the source of a similarly large share of new jobs during economic expansions,” said Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen at an event during the National Small Business Week in May. “America has come a long way since the dark days of the financial crisis, and small businesses deserve a considerable share of the credit for the investment and hiring that have brought that progress.”
The DC tech hub, founded on the second anniversary of President Obama’s “Startup America” Initiative, is all about small businesses. It is worth noting, however, that many of the young people involved with 1776 are quick to note they enjoy working in the shadow of the White House and Capitol but see their business paths independent of government.
Take Dan Mindus, the founder of NextGen Angels, a company that brings together angel investors under the age of 40 to help get startups off the ground.
In a recent interview with Mindus at a 1776 event, he explained why he sees Washington DC as a unique goldmine for young entrepreneurs. “In DC, we have a real asset in the intellectual energy that has long been here. Because the federal government exists here, you have intelligent, creative, well-educated people who are striving,” he told The Fiscal Times. “But more and more of them are realizing that the way to have a significant impact in the world is by creating a high-growth company. It is not just though non-profits or government service.”
Obama, though, said he believed government could help some – were it not for all the partisan gridlock.
“It’s really important for us to understand that we could be making even stronger progress,” the president said. “We could be growing even more jobs, we could be creating even more business opportunities for smart, talented folks like these, if those of us here in Washington were focused on them, focused on you, the American people, rather than focused on politics.”
The demographic represented at 1776 was a key piece of the Obama coalition in 2008 and 2012. But it is also a demographic hard hit in the wake if the recession.
Generation Opportunity, a national, non-partisan millennial-focused advocacy organization, says its analysis of Census data shows some 40 percent of unemployed workers are millennials. Additionally, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 15.2 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 were either unemployed or long-term unemployed (and no longer looking for jobs) in June.
Because of those struggles, it is an open question whether younger voters will be motivated to take part in the 2014 midterms, or whether they will remain Democrats by such a large margins in 2016.
The president seemed to be making a direct pitch.
"This is a cool place to work out of," said Obama, according to a Facebook post from Brigade, a technology startup aimed at promoting engagement in democracy.
“My hope,” said the president, “is the American people look at today’s news and understand that, in fact, we are making strides.”
But the latest jobs numbers beg the ultimate question: Is the economy finally going to kick into a higher and more sustainable gear, or were its summer fireworks just a spark?
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