Markets tumbled early this morning after May's jobs report fumbled big time. Just 54,000 jobs were created last month -- a gain of 83,000 in the private sector, and a decline of some 28,000 government jobs.
This was ugly. We need about 150,000 jobs added every month just to keep up with population growth. You can already hear the chatter: Just like last summer, rumblings of a double-dip are springing to life. The economy's slowing. Jobs are fleeting. Time to worry?
Maybe. Maybe not. No one can predict these things. Keep the numbers in perspective, though. It's perfectly normal for monthly jobs numbers to bounce all over the place, taking huge drops even during strong economic times.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With every blip in this chart came fears and screams of a slowing economy. Very, very rarely were those fears proven accurate. Even in the best of times -- mid-'80s, late '90s -- the numbers don't go up in a straight line. It's just not how these things work.
Keep in mind, in a country with more than 300 million people, monthly jobs figures fluctuate by a few hundred thousand in a good month -- a rounding error at best. The changes are so small in relation to the entire economy, and the statistics used to calculate the changes are so imperfect, that one month's figures shouldn't be taken too seriously. Initial figures are almost always revised, after all. More important is the trend in an average reading over three to six months. Even with today's terrible number and downward revisions to previous months, that average comes out to a gain of 150,000 jobs a month for the last six months.
Is that good? No. It's barely enough to keep the unemployment rate flat. Even so, you can't simply look at today's number and declare that we're falling into a new slowdown.
Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Follow him on Twitter @TMFHousel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.