Highlights and Lowlights From January's Jobs Report

There were 5.5 million more Americans working in January 2013 than in January 2010, a period when the labor force grew by 2.2 million. The jobs recovery is agonizingly slow, but it really is happening. 

On Friday, the Department of Labor reported that 157,000 jobs were created in January. Here are four things you need to know.

More of the same
Since job gains resumed after the job-market bloodbath of 2008, there has been virtually no change in the trend of monthly payroll growth. We are stuck in a grinding rut of creating about 160,000 jobs a month: 

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You can sum up each of the last 40 or so monthly employment reports in one sentence: "We created just barely enough jobs last month to reduce the number of unemployed by a small amount." There really isn't much else going on.

Big revisions
Nearly every employment report is revised in subsequent months as the Department of Labor receives more data. January's employment report showed that November and December's numbers were revised up by a combined 127,000 jobs (a reminder that January's report should be taken with a grain of sea salt). This is great news, both because we found out that more people are working and because upward revisions tend to occur when the economy is expanding.

Every January employment report also includes revised estimates of the size of the labor force, population, and workforce. This year's re-benchmarking found that 422,000 more people were working in March 2012 than we originally thought. This, too, is what you expect to see when the economy is growing.

Not nearly enough
The Federal Reserve has vowed to keep its foot on the monetary gas peddle until the unemployment rate drops to 6.5%. That would require 2.2 million more jobs above the pace of new entrants into the labor force. At the current pace of jobs growth, we won't be anywhere near that level until perhaps 2016. There's some reason to think job creation may be about to jump -- housing construction is surging, and that tends to be a big job-creator -- but the scars left by the Great Recession will last for many more years.

High unemployment? Depends on who you ask
Employment reports are usually presented in a one-size-fits-all way, but there's an incredible amount of variation among different demographic groups. Take unemployment rates broken down by education:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's degree is 3.7% compared with 12% for those without a high school diploma. Those with a college education don't just have advantages over those who don't; they live in an entirely different economy.

The unemployment rate for those aged 16 to 17 is 28.4%; for those aged 34 to 44, it's 6.5%. For veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, it's 11.7% (17.1% for female veterans); for veterans of the first Gulf War, it's 5.7%. For those whose last job was in the construction industry, unemployment is 16.1%. For those who previously worked in health care, it's 5.4%. The unemployment rate in Wayne County, Mich., is 11.4%; in Fairfax Country, Va., it's 3.7%.

The question, "How is the jobs market?" can only be answered with, "It depends" -- on how old you are, whether you went to school, what you majored in, where you live, and many other factors. Your own reality might look far different from the headlines.

How's it look for you? 

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2013, at 11:11 AM, DS31 wrote:

    Morgan,

    Something has always confused me. Each week the Dept. of Labor reports "weekly" first-time unemployment claims which has been averaging somewhere between 300,000 to 400,000 for quite some time. If the economy is creating approx. 160,000 new jobs per month, is that a "net" figure? Did the US economy actually lose over 1 million jobs while creating 160,000 more than it lost?

    Dan

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2013, at 11:25 AM, TMFMorgan wrote:

    DS31,

    The Labor Department tracks a metric you might be interested in called JOLTS, or Job Opening and Labor Turnover. Here's a historic chart:

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-YlTBgKw8-zY/UJknjFKAlRI/AAAAAAAAUy...

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2013, at 11:43 AM, SkepikI wrote:

    ^ That's quite an interesting chart. Easily more interesting than the first chart in your article. It shows for instance people QUITTING even in the teeth of the downturn at a pretty good but lower clip. I suppose that includes retirements which OUGHT to be happening at about 300,000 a month but apparently are not. What would be equally interesting is a chart with productivity increases overlain with firings and layoffs...

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2013, at 12:46 PM, DS31 wrote:

    Very illuminating chart, Morgan. Thank you!!

    Dan

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