On my former blog, I used to carefully track the employment statistics which came out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics each month. This means that the first Friday of every month is Data Day!!

What has surprised me most in the past year and a half, is that the job numbers have been really pathetic for 18 months now, but the press has said very little about them.

If you're unfamiliar with how this report works, here's a primer.

There are actually 2 employment reports that come out each month. The first is the "Household Survey". The BLS calls people up and asks them if they and other adults in their house have jobs. That's then tallied into one employment number. It is this survey which provides the data for the Unemployment Rate, which this month is up to 5.5%.

The second survey is the "Establishment Survey". The BLS calls major employers and asks them how many people are working in their factory/offices. This is usually the data that is talked about each month.

I track both, but it is the Household Survey that has been the most interesting.

The numbers have been a flat line since December, 2006.

The average number of jobs added a month from 3/04 - 12/06 was 231,000.
The average number of jobs added a month from 12/06 - 6/08 was    6,667.

Now, I've speculated that these numbers aren't quite what they seem, because there are a number of factors adding in to these.

For example, in May, 08, the number of people reporting that they have jobs dropped by 285,000, but the size of the labor force grew by 577,000. Creating a swing of 861,000 more unemployed. Where did the half a million people now looking for work come from? In April that number was only 173,000 (and 362,000 new jobs were added, for a positive swing of 189,000 fewer unemployed.)

Other factors which may be adding to the flat-line:

  • Reports keep coming in that illegal aliens are leaving the country for home. Since the BLS has no way of distinguishing a legal from an illegal person over the phone, they are included in the statistics. As they leave, the number of job-seekers and job-holders should drop.

  • At some point soon, the Baby Boomers' retirement will begin being a major force in these statistics. Early retirements are already hitting the statistics as the start of the wave is turning 63. Ten years from now the peak of the baby boom will be in their early 60's and starting to leave the work force. This has been talked about as a major problem for the future—lack of workers to pay for the massive numbers of retirees, but no one puts 2 and 2 together and mentions that the employment statistics must take a hit accordingly.

Which brings me to the odd question: if there have been essentially no jobs added in the last year and a half, why aren't the media using that fact in their arsenal to bash Bush with?

My guess, in line with what I said in a post below (about statistics being the most-important/worst-taught class in school), I doubt there's a reporter out there competent enough in either basic math or the workings of a spread sheet to bother putting the data in every month. It takes about 3 minutes to update a chart, but I guess hunting for the next Larry Craig is more interesting.


Jim Masterson said...

Your post reminded me of the spreadsheet I've been keeping on the BLS. A jpeg image of the chart is here. The labor force keeps rising. If employment stopped rising then unemployment would increase. In general, the number-of-jobs have to keep rising or the unemployment rate would be extremely high. I've added some vertical lines to mark various Presidential elections and one fiscal year. You can blame the Clinton economic collapse on Clinton, and the Bush recovery on Bush 43. Notice that the current unemployment rise coincides with the Democrat takeover of Congress. Although we can't blame the start of the upward rise of unemployment (unemployment rate is a lagging economic indicator) on the Democrats, they certainly haven't done anything to stop it. Of course, the President is blamed for all economic ills.