The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

The ‘O’ Turns to ‘0’


As you have probably heard, the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is somehow not merely disappointing but psychologically jarring:

That’s a zero, as in zero net jobs created.

August is traditionally a slow month for the unemployment rate, so no one should have expected a big drop in unemployment. Most of the figures were unchanged from July. But some weren’t so stable, and they’re bad news, too:

  • The number of persons employed part-time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) rose from 8.4 million to 8.8 million in August.
  • About 2.6 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force in August, up from 2.4 million a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

The preliminary figure is that private-sector employment increased by 17,000, so Obama can, if he wishes, continue bragging about the number of months of consecutive private-sector job growth. Of course, when we add 100,000 to 200,000 new workers per month on average, the news is worse than it first appears. As I mentioned last week, we’ve rarely hit the threshold that is required to keep pace with new workers and actually bring down the unemployment rate.

UPDATE: Number-Cruncher, my favorite stats-and-numbers minded reader, looks at these new figures and says that the news isn’t good, but it’s not quite as dire as some may think:

The positive in this s report is that the Household Survey we gained 331,000 Jobs in August. Accordingly the Employment Population Ratio ticked up (that’s a good thing) by 0.1% (58.2% versus 58.1%).

BUT . . .

On a cautionary note, this not the first time this year the Household Survey had an outlier result. Thus, we are still in critical condition. If October and November follow duplicate this report (e.g. we add 300k jobs), real Job growth is on the horizon . . . despite anything we might see with the establishment survey. One report cannot erase a year of anemic job growth (according to the Household Survey) A comparison snapshot from the household survey from August 2010 to August 2011 indicates that we have added only 360,000 jobs the last 12 months while at the same time our able-bodied employable population has grown by almost 1.77 million (e.g. “Civilian noninstitutional population”).

So I conclude by saying that what we have is another “mixed” report. If this report is duplicated for the next three months (e.g. establishment data poor/household survey positive), the establishment survey data would be poised to gain significant steam in early to mid-2012 (something the administration wants desperately). The Caution however is that the household survey is a statistical number. To wit, it is not immune (despite a 60k sample size) to outlier results. Moreover, the results I am citing are seasonally adjusted and I am not privy to the data and calculation methodology. One report cannot not answer the question are more people getting jobs who pay their taxes quarterly, give us three in a row and we can start talking.

Number-Cruncher also notices that the unemployment rate for African-Americans is at its highest in 10 years at 16.7 percent. Since 2009, it has bounced around quite a bit, starting at 12.7 percent and hitting 16.5 percent in March and April of 2010, so it might be a more volatile figure than the broader range of the whole population. But if the numbers are accurate, African-American unemployment jumped eight-tenths of a percentage point last month.

Tags: Barack Obama , Unemployment


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