Over the course of the Great Recession, over 8.8 million jobs were eliminated in the United States alone. Americans lost jobs in construction, at colleges, at nonprofits, at law firms, and at big-box stores going out of business. They lost jobs in recreation, at newspapers, at public radio stations, at car factories and startups, in finance, in advertising, and in publishing. In the past, recessions have busted the job market, but then recovery has rebuilt it: The jobs disappeared as companies tightened their belts, then reappeared as they felt confident expanding.
That’s not what happened this time — which is one of the main reasons why millennials, many of whom were struggling to find their first job, any job, during this era, have had such a negative experience of work. To be clear, it’s not that jobs weren’t created. In fact, strong job creation numbers were flouted every day — first by Obama, then by Trump. It’s just that they weren’t the same sort of jobs as before. A “job” can be a temp position given to a freelancer, a seasonal gig, even a part-time job. According to one study, nearly all of the jobs “added” to the economy between 2005 and 2015 were “contingent” or “alternative” in some way.