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Economist expresses optimism on recovery; Says high jobless rate could last a decade

Economist James E. Glassman thinks the recovery is on solid ground. But he thinks it could take up to a decade to bring unemployment down to where it was before the Great Recession.

"The main challenge now is getting people back to work," said Glassman, JPMorgan Chase's senior economist, during a stop in Buffalo on Friday. "There's a recovery under way. The healing will take a long time."

The U.S. unemployment rate has dropped by almost a full percentage point since November, falling to a nearly two-year low of 8.9 percent during February.

But Glassman said the widely quoted jobless figure vastly understates the unemployment problem the country is facing. While 13.7 million Americans are without work and actively looking for a job, another 8.3 million are working part-time when they'd prefer to have full-time employment. Still another 2.7 million are so discouraged that they've stopped looking for work.

Add all of those groups in, and the percentage of Americans who are "underemployed" shoots up to 16.1 percent.

"The unemployment rate we see is really half of the problem," Glassman said during an interview. "It might take a decade to get the economy back to full employment."

While the economy has been adding jobs for five straight months, the pace of that growth has been sluggish, mainly because the overall economy isn't growing fast enough to spur more hiring.

The economy added 192,000 jobs last month, with private sector employers adding jobs at the fastest pace since April. But those gains were offset by the loss of 30,000 government jobs -- a trend that Glassman expects to continue as tax-strapped governments grapple with budget shortfalls.

Yet Glassman doesn't think the wave of government cutbacks will cause the recovery to stall, noting that private sector hiring has been strengthening at the same time.

"I wouldn't fear it," he said. "There's so much our government sector can do to be more effective."

Other factors, such as spiking gasoline costs and the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, also are unlikely to knock the recovery off track, he said.

"I don't think these developments will derail the economy," he said. "They're headwinds."

Consumers squeezed by rising gasoline prices will be looking for ways to use less gas, such as combining trips or carpooling, Glassman said.