The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the Employment Situation report for November noting that Hurricane Sandy did not affect the national employment and unemployment figures in today’s release. The establishment survey indicated payroll employment increased by 146,000 with private sector payrolls increasing by 147,000 and a loss of 1,000 in the government sector. Estimates for both September and October were revised downward by a total of 49,000. The household survey indicated the unemployment rate moved down to 7.7% from 7.9% in October.
The payroll numbers are indicative of a labor market treading water. They’ve been weaker in plenty of months over the last two years, but they are well below levels necessary to bring the unemployment rate down.
In a reversal of last month’s report, the decline in the unemployment rate is not as good as it looks. Last month the unemployment rate moved up based on an increase in the labor force that outpaced the increase in the number of employed persons. Adding jobs and an expanding labor force were positive gains, the increase in the unemployment rate was less important.
This month the decline in the unemployment rate is based on a decline in the labor force. The labor force shrank by the combined effect of 122,000 fewer persons employed and a decline of 229,000 in the number of persons previously classified as unemployed. Persons who want work, have looked for work in the prior 12 months, but not in the 4 weeks preceding the household survey are classified as marginally attached to the labor force and not included in counts of the unemployed or labor force. The decline in the unemployment rate wasn’t based on any real improvement in conditions.
Overall, the economy continues to add to payrolls but at a slower than robust pace. The unemployment rate is trending down since peaking in 2009, but the labor force has only recently regained the losses since the recession. We’re seeing signs of improvement but there is still plenty of ground to make up.