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What do the new jobs numbers mean?

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 3:39 a.m. MDT

In this Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, file photo, retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Gipson, of Atlanta, right, has his resume looked over by Ralph Brown, a management and program analyst with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a job fair for veterans at the VFW Post 2681,Marietta, Ga. The unemployment rate is at a 5-year low as experts say the economy slowly recovers. (David Goldman, Associated Press) In this Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, file photo, retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Gipson, of Atlanta, right, has his resume looked over by Ralph Brown, a management and program analyst with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a job fair for veterans at the VFW Post 2681,Marietta, Ga. The unemployment rate is at a 5-year low as experts say the economy slowly recovers. (David Goldman, Associated Press)

Now that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has released November's unemployment numbers, the real fun begins: spinning the results.

First off, the BLS reports: "The unemployment rate declined from 7.3 percent to 7.0 percent in November."

Reuters says, "The report, which showed broad gains in employment and a rise in hourly earnings, suggested strength in the economy heading into year-end."

The BLS reports on the long-term unemployed: "The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged at 4.1 million in November. These individuals accounted for 37.3 percent of the unemployed. The number of long-term unemployed has declined by 718,000 over the past 12 months."

"The … American economy added 203,000 jobs in November. That's a shade above the average of 195,000 net new hires per month over the past year (though not meaningfully so given the margin of error)," an Economist blog says. "There are still 11 million officially unemployed workers in the economy. It has been four and a half years since the recovery began, and employment has yet to reach the pre-recession employment peak (to say nothing of the pre-recession trend, which may never be regained). Recent job growth, while in some ways surprising and encouraging, is hardly the fastest of the recovery period, and bursts of rapid employment growth have repeatedly fizzled out over the past four years …."

Quoctrung Bui at NPR's Planet Money throws some cold water on the numbers. "If you're unemployed, there's a good chance you'll be unemployed for a long time," he writes. "The average duration of unemployment exploded during the recession and hasn't improved much since."

Keith Hall, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, blogs that the labor force participation rate is still low.

"At 203,000 jobs this month and an average of 189,000 per month so far this year, we have averaged about the same rate of job growth as last year, and the unemployment rate rebounded from last month's rise, dropping to 7.0 percent," he says. "However, while the November data is generally positive, it is hard to be too encouraged when labor force participation remains so low."

Hall says the size of the labor force as a share of the working age population has "been at its lowest level in nearly 35 years. So far this year, the working age population has grown by 2.2 million, but the labor force has declined by 217,000."

Hall says it is this decline in the labor force that has caused the drop in the unemployment rate. This decline in the labor force has been entirely responsible for the drop in the unemployment rate over the past 11 months, he says.

Elisabeth Jacobs at the Brookings Institute says the job numbers tell us there are more than 10 million Americans still out of work.

"And 37 percent of them have been looking for a job for six or more months," Jacobs says. "One obvious policy implication is to extend federal unemployment benefits, which are scheduled to expire for 1.3 million jobless workers a few days after Christmas. Amongst the less obvious implications of the continued challenges facing the labor market is the need to get serious about job training policy … (because) many of those folks looking for work could be profitably using their time to upgrade their skills in order to better meet the demands of a rapidly changing economy."

Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, blogs on the official White House website that "America's resilient businesses have added jobs for 45 consecutive months, with private sector employment increasing by more than 8 million over that period."

Furman also says, "While still unacceptably high, the unemployment rate fell 0.3 percentage points to 7.0 percent, the lowest in five years, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics' broadest alternative measure of labor underutilization also posted a notable decline."

That rate, called U-6, measures not just those unemployed as a percentage of the labor force, but also "all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons … plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force." This means that on top of the normal official unemployment rate, it counts people who have given up looking for work or are reluctantly settling for part-time jobs. The U-6 unemployment rate dropped from 13.9 percent in October to 13.2 percent for November.

Any jobless numbers pale when compared to people's personal job status. Seeing unemployment numbers drop can't bring much solace to the 2,000 people to be let go at Unilever, just a few of the layoffs announced and chronicled at dailyjobcuts.com.

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