About today’s jobs report: mixed news. No prize in this box.

Summary: The news media focuses on the month-to-month changes in the jobs report, which consist mostly of noise. Strong months confirm the optimists; weak months confirm the pessimists. In fact the trend of growth remains the real story, with the US economy near stall speed — supported only (like the other developed nations) by massive multi-year fiscal and monetary stimulus (now fading). Here we look at the August report. Lots of conflicting numbers. The key point: nothing in it suggests that the widely expected second half growth acceleration has begun.

Economy

Contents

  1. The big picture
  2. Household survey
  3. Establishment survey
  4. Unemployment
  5. Other important metrics
  6. Other posts in this series
  7. For more information about US economy

(1) The big picture

Here we examine the August employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They conduct two surveys: one of households, one of businesses. They are not directly comparable, each giving different perspectives on the US economy. This report paints a picture consistent with the many other streams of information about the economy: continued slow growth.

(2) The Household survey

The Current Population survey is a simple survey of households. Compared to the survey of businesses it has large error bars but no revisions. It’s worth watching because it’s the basis for the headline unemployment rate, it gives useful data not in the more-accurate business (establishment) survey, and because some research suggests that the household report shows inflection points before the establishment survey.

Here are the numbers for August, in thousands, seasonally adjusted. An ugly drop in employment, but a large drop in the number unemployed.  How? Because the third category of people — the number not in the labor force — increased by 516 thousand (+0.6%).  Also, last month’s odd surge in part-time workers reversed itself.

Description July 2013 August 2013 Change Change
Employed 144,285 144,170 -115 1.4%
…Employment-population ratio 58.7% 58.6% -0.1 0.5%
Full-time 116,090 116,208  118 1.4%
Part-time 28,233 27,999  -234 1.1%
Unemployed 11,514 11,316  -198 -9.7%
…Unemployment rate 7.4% 7.3%  -0.1 -11%

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For the bigger picture here are the YoY numbers, in thousands, not seasonally adjusted. Slow but steady improvement.

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Description August 2012 August 2013 Change Change
Employed 142,164 144,509 1,951 1.4%
…Employment-population ratio 58.5% 58.8% +0.3 0.5%
Full-time 116,214 117,868 1,654 1.4%
Part-time 26,334 26,641 297 1.1%
Unemployed 12,696 11,462 -1,234 -9.7%
…Unemployment rate 8.2% 7.3% -0.9% -11.0%

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(3) The establishment survey

The second survey asks employers to report the number of jobs. Over one or more quarters it usually shows a similar pattern of growth as the household survey, giving us confidence in the results. During the past year it shows slow improvement (+1.7%), but at a faster rate than the household survey  (+1.4%). Attention conservatives: under the Keynian socialist the number of government employees continues to shrink. Time to apologize for your failed predictions.

Highlights for August:

  • The August gain of 169 thousand jobs (SA) is slightly less than the average of the past 12 months (184 thousand, SA).
  • The birth-death model produced 24% of the total August job gain (90,000 of 378,000, not seasonally adjusted).
  • Revisions to June and July subtracted 74 thousand jobs (21% of the originally reported total, SA). The gain in the past 3 months was only 148 thousand/month.
  • The fearsome sequester continues to be a dud in terms of Federal jobs (ex-Postal): a total of only 8,700 jobs lost in July & August (0.4%, SA).

Here is the YoY picture, in thousands, not seasonally adjusted:

Description August 2012 August 2013 Change Change
Total nonfarm 133,753 135,961 2,208 1.7%
Total private 112,927  115,218 2,291 2.0%
Total government 20,826 20,743 -83 -0.4%

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(4) Measures of Unemployment

(a)  New claims for unemployment insurance are one of the most accurate and useful real-time meaures of the job market.

Compare the change in the 4-week moving averages (source here) of August 2012 and 2013 (not seasonally adjusted).

  • A year ago: 310 thousand
  • 28 August 2013: 269 thousand (-13%)

(b)  The unemployment rate – a complex metric that gets far too much attention

The analysts at BLS calculate six measures of unemployment, from narrow to broad definitions. None is more real than the others; none are easily comparable to the rough estimates of unemployment during the 1930s (the first reliable surveys were in the early 1940s). Most people consider U-3, or U-4, or U-5 as the most useful measure. U-6 includes people with part-time jobs who prefer full-time work, and so includes underemployment. These below numbers are not seasonally adjusted.

Any way you count it, unemployment has decreased during the past year. But the broader the measure, the slower the decline. U-1 down 14%; U-6 down 7%. These are not seasonally adjusted.

Metric August 2012 August 2013
U-1 4.3% 3.7%
U-2 4.4% 3.8%
U-3 8.2% 7.3%
U-4 8.7% 7.9%
U-5 9.7% 8.7%
U-6 14.6% 13.6%

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(5) Another important metric: wages and hours worked

Looking at nonfarm private workers in August 2012 vs. 2013 (seasonally adjusted), from the Establishment Report:

  • Average hours worked per week: 34.4 vs. 34.5 (no significant change)
  • Average hourly earnings: $23.53 vs. 24.05 (up 2.2%, +0.2% over the CPI) — whoopee!
  • Average weekly earnings: $809.43 vs. $829.73 (up 2.5%, +0.5% after inflation) — whoopee!

No signs of the Wage Inflation so dreaded by corporations and economists.

Better days are coming, for some of us.

(6) Other posts looking at the economy today

  1. The greatest monetary experiment, ever, 20 June 2013
  2. Is there a recession looming in our future? Let’s review the evidence., 2 August 2013
  3. How strong is the US economy? Let’s look at drivers of growth!, 5 August 2013
  4. Status report on the US economy: where we are, where we’re going, 27 August 2013
  5. Look at the economy to see why today’s jobs report is so important!, 6 September 2013

(7) For more information about the US economy

  1. A certain casualty of the recession: the US Government’s solvency, 25 November 2008
  2. Beginning of the end of the Republic’s solvency. Soon come the first steps to a reformed regime – or a new regime., 14 August 2009
  3. The Robot Revolution arrives, and the world changes, 20 April 2012 — about structural unemployment
  4. America is rich and powerful because we can borrow. Will this debt build a stronger America?, 5 June 2012
  5. America’s strength is an illusion created by foolish borrowing, 10 October 2012

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4 thoughts on “About today’s jobs report: mixed news. No prize in this box.

  1. Nice job, as always, FM. A question and a comment.

    Question: In section 2, the July – August comparison shows the following line:
    Part-time 22,233 27,999 -234 1.1%

    That math doesn’t work, the difference is a roughly 5.7 million job gain not a loss of 234 thousand. Obviously a typo, but is it yours or theirs?

    Comment: I recently spoke with a mid-level bureaucrat at the FDA and asked her about the effects of sequestration. She shared two interesting things with me in an off-the-cuff, off-the-record sort of way (which means accuracy is not likely to be high).
    1. Government bureaucracies have increasingly experienced a sort of floating defunded-but-not-defunded state of being and they interpret the sequester as being the same sort of thing. They cannot believe that the vital work they do (at least in their eyes) is being treated in such a cavalier way by Congress. So they’ve developed a wide range of ways to handle this issue such as:
    a) squirreling away excess monies in good times
    b) very odd accounting practices that have nasty consequences downstream
    c) flat-out misallocation of funds (she predicted a very low chance of getting caught and I suspect she is right)
    c) delaying the effect of budget cuts on the theory that the government will eventually reverse itself so why should the organization suffer in the meantime? The Pentagon is big on this one.

    2. She also noted that Congressional action is increasingly demoralizing the bureaucrats and they are reacting by reducing the quality and quantity of their work in order to preserve jobs. On one plane this makes some sense but reduced performance plays nicely into the hands of people who want to gut the government bureaucracies.

    When I mentioned this thought to her, she was charmingly naive about the Tea Party and confidently predicted that “they” (unspecified people) would never allow the Tea Party to have an effect on the US government bureaucracy. When I pointed out that the Tea Party was already having an effect by forcing the sequester, she explained that I should stop worrying because things will eventually and automatically get back to normal.

    This last part, unfortunately, seems like quite a reasonable position for a person in her position (close enough to retirement to start coasting) to take but doesn’t strike me as a good plan for the future. I wonder what percentage of the mid and senior level bureaucrats share her thinking.

    1. Pluto,

      Another thought about the government staff – I am surprised that they are not highly demoralized by the 40+ year-long campaign by conservatives to destroy the pubic’s confidence in the honesty, skill, and general utility of the government. It’s astonishly common to find people who say terrible things about the government and its employees. Interestingly, many of them depend on those same people. Not just for basic services — safe food and drugs — but also for ones specific to their business. Like the Agriculture Department (services and subsidies) for farmers. They’ll moan and groan about the government, but watch them wail when cuts are proposed to the parts that help them.

      Perhaps all times are strange times. Ours certainly is.

  2. All politics are tribal. dysfunctional politics (“distrust of government/politics”) feeds a sense that the mission of civil service workers to forward social progress is no longer validated or legitimate. I’ve heard from a high level government scientist that there is little confidence that rational thought will prevail in making political decisions about things like the proper maintenance of the infrastructure for one of the most dangerous technologies on the planet. Auditors for a federal education grant program reportedly targeted sites near wine country for many years to a much greater level than sites away from wine country. if true, they are not serious about accountability in the grant program.

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