A look at US employment (the big picture)

Summary:  a look at the US labor force.  The numbers tossed around in the news media give little perspective on the scale of the problem.  The obvious conclusion:  the Democratic Party is toast in the November elections if employment does not improve soon.  How sad that their inaction earlier this years means that nothing can be done to affect these trends before E-day.

Current Numbers

Some aspects of employment are leading indicators, some are lagging indicators.  Broadly speaking, employment is one of the major metric’s of the nation’s health, both economic and social.

These are the numbers from the Census’ Household Population survey (tables A and A-1) for September, released 7 October 2010 (The Census also contacts businesses to produce the establishment survey).  All rounded to the nearest million.

  • 238 million – the civilian non-institutional population, adults 16+ years old (17 million are 16-19 years old).
  • 154 million are in the labor force (6 million are ages 16-19). 
  • 139 million have jobs (4 million are ages 16-19)
  • 27 million of those jobs are part-time jobs; 9 million of those with part-time jobs would prefer full-time jobs.
  • 15 million of the labor force are unemployed:  1 million  quit, 9 million were fired, 5 million entered or re-entered the labor force (2 million are ages 16-19).
  • 1 million have become discouraged and stopped looking.

The Census provides six measures of unemployment depending on definition of the labor force and unemployed.  The four most widely used (U-3 to U-6) range from 9.6% to 17.1% (table A-15).  All have been drifted up slightly during the past 3 months.  None of these measures are more “right” than the others.  None are easily comparable to those of the great depression (the government began measuring unemployment in the 1940′s; earlier numbers are rough estimates).

The median duration of unemployment is 20 weeks.  Six million have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more (table A-12); the level of long-term unemployment has been a post Depression high during this downturn.

The Recovery

Wall Street and the media obsess over each month’s tiny changes in a recovery that started in June 2010.  And the progress since then?  Compare the changes during the two most recent six month periods:  September 2009 to May 2010 versus May 2009 to September 2010 (seasonally adjusted, in thousands):

  • Civilian non-institutional population:  +1,177 vs. +823
  • Employed:     +652 vs. 29
  • Unemployed:  186 vs. 206  (mostly though people dropping out of the labor force; as seen in the next line)
  • Not in the labor force:  +711 vs. +1,057

As a check on this data, look at the Social Security employment taxes in August:  up 0.18% year-over-year, reflecting weak growth in jobs, hours, and wages.

 Recovery?  No.  A wide range of economic data suggests that the recovery stalled in May – June, and slowed since then.

New claims for unemployment have been stable since late December 2009 at roughly 463 thousand/week.  That’s job losses at an annual rate of 24 million per year.  Only aprox 80% of workers are covered by UI (no independent contractors and self-employed), and the unemployment rate is higher for uncovered workers.  So the job loss rate is probably running at aprox 30 million/year.  This shows considerable stress on the US economy — and on US households.  Most of the newly unemployed find a job, but often with some combination of lower wages, less benefits, and fewer hours.

Other posts about employment

  1. America passes a milestone!, 20 January 2010 — More jobs in government than manufacturing
  2. Yes, it is a “mancession”, with men losing more jobs than women. Just like all recessions., 5 October 2009
  3. Update on the “mancession”, 2 December 2009
  4. A look at the engines of Amercan job creation, 12 January 2010
  5. An ominous trend: number of Americans working for the government vs. those making things, 5 March 2010 — Update to the Oct 2009 post.
  6. The coming big increase in structural unemployment, 7 August 2010
  7. The coming Robotic Nation, 28 August 2010
  8. The coming of the robots, reshaping our society in ways difficult to foresee, 22 September 2010
  9. Economists grapple with the first stage of the robot revolution, 23 September 2010

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