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September Jobs Report: Taking A Closer Look…

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    October 6, 2012

    The establishment report of +114,000 jobs was pretty much about what most expected. The four-month average is a mere 120,000 a month (a very weak set of establishment numbers for this point in a recovery).

    However, the household survey surprise shows the unemployment rate fell three-tenths of a percent to 7.8%.

    On the surface, this is a solid showing, and 100% certain to boost the Obama campaign. I suggest these numbers will overshadow a horrendously weak performance by the president in the debate.

    That said, a closer look shows the entire drop in the unemployment rate can be attributed to a surprise rise of 582,000 in part-time workers. U-6 unemployment remained at 14.7%. U-6 includes part-time workers who want a full-time job.

    Still, all things considered, this was the strongest report in four months.

    Does it change my recession outlook?

    No, it doesn’t. A one-month potential outlier based primarily on a rise in part-time employment, accompanied by other weak data does not change my perception.

    Jobs Report at a Glance

    Here is an overview of today’s release.

    • September Payrolls +114,000 – Establishment Survey
    • Four-month average +120,000 – Establishment Survey
    • US Employment +873,000 – Household Survey
    • Involuntary Part-Time Work +582,000 – Household Survey
    • Baseline Unemployment Rate -.03 at 7.8% – Household Survey
    • U-6 unemployment did not drop. It remained at 14.7%.
    • The Civilian Labor Force +418,000

    Recall that the unemployment rate varies in accordance with the Household Survey not the reported headline jobs number, and not in accordance with the weekly claims data.

    Quick Notes About the Unemployment Rate 

    • US unemployment rate -.3 to 7.8%
    • In the last two months the unemployment rate dropped .5%
    • Reversing a three-month trend, those “not” in the labor force fell by 211,000
    • In the last year, those “not” in the labor force rose by 2,643,000
    • Over the course of the last year, the number of people employed rose by 2,867,000.
    • Participation Rate rose .01 to 63.6%
    • Long-Term unemployment (27 weeks and over) was 4,844 million a decline of 189,000
    • Were it not for people dropping out of the labor force, the unemployment rate would be well over 10%.

    Over the past several years people have dropped out of the labor force at an astounding, almost unbelievable rate, holding the unemployment rate artificially low. Some of this was due to major revisions last month on account of the 2010 census finally factored in. However, most of it is simply economic weakness.

    September 2012 Jobs Report

    Please consider the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) September 2012 Employment Report.

    The unemployment rate decreased to 7.8 percent in September, and total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 114,000, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in health care and in transportation and warehousing but changed little in most other major industries.

    Click on Any Chart in this Report to See a Sharper Image

    Unemployment Rate – Seasonally Adjusted

    Nonfarm Employment – Payroll Survey – Annual Look – Seasonally Adjusted

    Employment is above the total just prior to the 2001 recession, and about where it was in 2005.

    Nonfarm Employment – Payroll Survey Monthly Changes – Seasonally Adjusted

    click on any chart for sharper image

    Between January 2008 and February 2010, the U.S. economy lost 8.8 million jobs.

    Since the employment low in February 2010, nonfarm payrolls have expanded by about 4.7 million jobs. Of the 8.8 million jobs lost between January 2008 and February 2010, approximately 53% percent have been recovered (not accounting for normal demographics growth)

    Statistically, 125,000+- jobs a month is enough to keep the unemployment rate flat. For a discussion, please see Question on Jobs: How Many Does It Take to Keep Up With Demographics?

    Since the beginning of the year, job growth has averaged 145,000 per month, compared with an average monthly gain of 175,000 in 2011.

    Current Report Jobs

    Average Weekly Hours

    Index of Aggregate Weekly Hours

    Average Hourly Earnings vs. CPI

    BLS Birth-Death Model Black Box

    The BLS Birth/Death Model is an estimation by the BLS as to how many jobs the economy created that were not picked up in the payroll survey.

    The Birth-Death numbers are not seasonally adjusted, while the reported headline number is. In the black box the BLS combines the two, coming up with a total.

    The Birth Death number influences the overall totals, but the math is not as simple as it appears. Moreover, the effect is nowhere near as big as it might logically appear at first glance.

    Do not add or subtract the Birth-Death numbers from the reported headline totals. It does not work that way.

    Birth/Death assumptions are supposedly made according to estimates of where the BLS thinks we are in the economic cycle. Theory is one thing. Practice is clearly another as noted by numerous recent revisions.

    Birth Death Model Adjustments For 2011

    Birth Death Model Adjustments For 2012

    Birth-Death Notes

    Once again: Do NOT subtract the Birth-Death number from the reported headline number. That approach is statistically invalid.

    Note the historically rare occurrence this month of a negative non-January adjustment.

    In general, analysts attribute much more to birth-death numbers than they should. Except at economic turns, BLS Birth/Death errors are reasonably small.

    For a discussion of how little birth-death numbers affect actual monthly reporting, please see BLS Birth/Death Model Yet Again.

    Household Survey Data

    click on chart for sharper image

    In the last year, the civilian population rose by 3,701,000. Yet the labor force only rose by 1,059,000. Those not in the labor force rose by 2,643,000 to yet another record high 88,921,000.

    That is an amazing “achievement” to say the least, and as noted above most of this is due to economic weakness not census changes.

    Decline in Labor Force Factors

    1. Discouraged workers stop looking for jobs
    2. People retire because they cannot find jobs
    3. People go back to school hoping it will improve their chances of getting a job
    4. People stay in school longer because they cannot find a job

    Were it not for people dropping out of the labor force, the unemployment rate would be well over 10%.

    Part Time Status

    click on chart for sharper image

    There are 8,613,000 workers who are working part-time but want full-time work. This is a volatile series, however, this month’s jump of 582,000 is exceptionally large.

    BLS Alternate Measures of Unemployment

    click on chart for sharper image

    Table A-15 is where one can find a better approximation of what the unemployment rate really is.

    Notice I said “better” approximation not to be confused with “good” approximation.

    The official unemployment rate is 7.8%. However, if you start counting all the people that want a job but gave up, all the people with part-time jobs that want a full-time job, all the people who dropped off the unemployment rolls because their unemployment benefits ran out, etc., you get a closer picture of what the unemployment rate is. That number is in the last row labeled U-6.

    U-6 is much higher at 14.7%. Both numbers would be way higher still, were it not for millions dropping out of the labor force over the past few years.

    Note that U-6 unemployment did not drop. Only baseline unemployment did.

    Duration of Unemployment 

    Long-term unemployment remains in a disaster zone with 40% of the unemployed in the 27 weeks or longer category.

    Grossly Distorted Statistics

    Given the complete distortions of reality with respect to not counting people who allegedly dropped out of the work force, it is easy to misrepresent the headline numbers.

    Digging under the surface, the drop in the unemployment rate over the past two years is nothing but a statistical mirage. Things are much worse than the reported numbers indicate.

    Mike “Mish” Shedlock



    Images: Flickr (licence attribution)

    About The Author

    Mike Shedlock / Mish is a registered investment advisor representative for SitkaPacific Capital Management. Sitka Pacific is an asset management firm whose goal is strong performance and low volatility, regardless of market direction.  Visit Sitka Pacific’s Account Management Page to learn more about wealth management and capital preservation strategies of Sitka Pacific.

    You are currently viewing my global economics blog which typically has commentary every day of the week. I am also a contributing “professor” on Minyanville, a community site focused on economic and financial education.  Every Thursday I do a podcast on HoweStreet and on an ad hoc basis contribute to many other sites.

    When not writing about stocks or the economy I spend a great deal of time on photography and in the garden. I have over 80 magazine and book cover credits. Some of my Wisconsin and gardening images can be seen at MichaelShedlock.com.