The headlines from today’s jobs report are roughly in-line with consensus expectations, but the details of the report show the labor market may be healing much faster than the headlines suggest. The unemployment rate rose to 8.9% and non-farm payrolls fell 539,000 (-605,000 including revisions to February/March), about as the consensus expected. However, civilian employment (adjusted for the payroll concept) is an alternative measure of jobs that tends to react to economic turning points earlier than payrolls. In the three months ended in January, both payrolls and civilian employment were down 675,000 per month, reflecting intense economic weakness. In the last three months, payrolls are down 640,000 per month (a mild improvement) but civilian employment is down 363,000 per month (a substantial improvement). Two other hopeful signs in April were a large increase in the labor-force participation rate (the share of adults either working or looking for work) and a decline in the number of workers working part-time for economic reasons (because they cannot get the full-time hours they want). Usually similar increases in labor-force participation happen near the end or recessions or the early stages of recoveries.
— Bob Stein is senior economist with First Trust Advisers.