March 9, 2012
There's no getting around it: The jobs market is getting better. After posting a third consecutive month of 200,000-plus jobs gains and adding 2.2 million jobs in the past year, you have to be tripping over yourself with bearish bias to not accept that progress is being made.
This morning's February jobs report showed a gain of 227,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate holding steady at 8.3% -- though it likely would have fallen to 8.2% if there had been 31 days in the month. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) rallied some 50 points by midafternoon. Here are some other highlights:
- Broader unemployment rates that include those who have given up looking for work and those who want full-time work are dropping quickly. U6, the broadest measurement of unemployment, fell to 14.9% from 15.1% in January. That's down from 16.7% a year ago.
- Both the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio strengthened in February.
- December's and January's preliminary jobs data were revised up by a combined 61,000. Initial unemployment numbers have now been revised upward for eight months in a row. This is what typically happens during recoveries (and the opposite of what happens at the onset of new recessions).
- If you exclude the temporary 2010 Census hiring, January was the strongest jobs growth since 2005, and the eighth-strongest month of the past decade.
- The household survey -- a separate labor metric that asks people, not businesses, whether they have a job -- is absolutely exploding, showing a monthly gain of 428,000, and an average gain of 349,000 in the past seven months.
Now what about the lowlights? There are a few:
- A lot of the new jobs being created are in low-wage industries. A low-paying job is better than no job, but for many these are small victories that only support a meager quality of life.
- It's still awful. If we keep growing at this pace, it will be several more years before we regain all the jobs lost during the recession.
- Growth in average hourly pay over the past year was slow -- 1.8%, or less than the rate of inflation. Part of that was made up by employees working more hours, but that's a miserable way to keep up with inflation.
- These numbers could turn around at any moment. The past two years have seen at least three bouts of temporary gains that quickly faded. This latest round is stronger and has been longer-lasting, but things change -- quickly.