The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The economy added only 120,000 jobs in March -- not even enough to keep up with normal population growth. The unemployment rate fell to 8.2%, but only because many unemployed adults became discouraged and quit looking for work. Fourth-quarter economic growth was exceptionally strong as the global economy recovered from first-half disruptions such as the earthquake in Japan, but first quarter growth has been slower. Construction -- both commercial and single-unit residential -- has been hard hit, and now auto sales are slipping.
The economic crisis in Europe and mounting problems in China's housing sector and banks are causing U.S. businesses to worry about a second major recession and are discouraging new hiring. The U.S. economy continues to expand but is quite vulnerable to shock waves from crises in European and Asia. Factoring in those discouraged adults and others working part time for lack of full-time opportunities, the unemployment rate is about 14.5%. Adding college graduates in low-skill positions, such as baristas at Starbucks ( SBUX), and the unemployment rate is likely closer to 18%. Prospects for lowering those dreadful statistics remain slim. The economy must add 13.0 million jobs over the next three years -- 362,000 each month -- to bring unemployment down to 6%. Growth in the range of 4% to 5% is needed to get unemployment down to 6% over the next several years. In the fourth quarter of 2011, the economy grew at about 3.0%, but that is expected to slow to 2.5% in 2012. Growth is weak and jobs are in jeopardy, because temporary tax cuts, stimulus spending, large federal deficits, expensive and ineffective business regulations, and costly health care mandates do not address structural problems holding back dynamic growth and jobs creation. These problems are the huge trade deficit and dysfunctional energy policies. Oil and trade with China account for nearly the entire $600 billion trade deficit. This deficit is a tax on domestic demand that erases the benefits of tax cuts and stimulus spending. Simply put, dollars sent abroad to purchase oil and consumer goods from China, that do not return to purchase U.S. exports, are lost purchasing power. Consequently, the U.S. economy is expanding at 2% a year instead of the 5% pace that is possible after emerging from a deep recession and with such high unemployment. Industrial policies such as federal bailouts for General Motors ( GM) won't fix the jobs market. They just shift employment from more competitive enterprises. Payroll tax holidays are similar bandaids; they buy jobs today at the expense of cutbacks in 2013 and the years that follow. Without prompt efforts to produce more domestic oil, redress the trade imbalance with China, relax burdensome business regulations, and curb health care mandates and costs, the U.S. economy cannot grow and create enough jobs.