Jobs Rose by 304k Although Employment Fell by 251k: Unemployment Rate 4.0%

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Nonfarm payrolls rose by 304,000 but employment fell by 251,000. The unemployment rate rose to 4.0% from 3.9%


Initial Reaction

Last month jobs came in at 312,000 but employment only rose by 142,000. This month jobs came in at 304,000 but employment fell by 251,000.

The two-month scorecard is jobs +616k, employment -109k. The discrepancy is 725k but negative revisions also come into play.

Of special note, the U6 unemployment rate jumped a whopping 0.5 percentage points to 8.1%.

And supposedly we had a sudden die off as the population shrunk by 649,000.

This is one of the screwiest reports ever.

Let’s dive into the details in the BLS Employment Situation Summary, unofficially called the Jobs Report.

Job Revisions

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for November was revised up from +176,000 to +196,000, and the change for December was revised down from +312,000 to +222,000. With these revisions, employment gains in November and December combined were 70,000 less than previously reported.

After revisions, job gains have averaged 241,000 per month over the last 3 months. (Monthly revisions result from additional reports received from businesses and government agencies since the last published estimates and from the recalculation of seasonal factors. The annual benchmark process also contributed to the November and December revisions.)

Job Revisions Last Month

Last month the BLS revised November up from +155,000 to +176,000, and the change for October was revised up from +237,000 to +274,000. With these revisions, employment gains in October and November combined were 58,000 more than previously reported. After revisions, job gains have averaged 254,000 per month over the last 3 months.

Revised Scorecard

The two-month scorecard is jobs +526k, employment -109k. The discrepancy is 635k.

BLS Jobs Statistics at a Glance

  • Nonfarm Payroll: +304,000 – Establishment Survey
  • Employment: -251,000 – Household Survey
  • Unemployment: +241,000 – Household Survey
  • Involuntary Part-Time Work: +490,000 – Household Survey
  • Voluntary Part-Time Work: -285,000 – Household Survey
  • Baseline Unemployment Rate: +0.1 to 4.0% – Household Survey
  • U-6 unemployment: +0.5 PP to 8.1% – Household Survey
  • Civilian Non-institutional Population: -649,000
  • Civilian Labor Force: -11,000 – Household Survey
  • Not in Labor Force: -639,000 – Household Survey
  • Participation Rate: +0.1 to 63.2– Household Survey

Employment Report Statement

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 304,000 in January, and the unemployment rate edged up to 4.0 percent. Job gains occurred in several industries, including leisure and hospitality, construction, health care, and transportation and warehousing.

Unemployment Rate – Seasonally Adjusted

The above Unemployment Rate Chart is from the BLS. Click on the link for an interactive chart.

Nonfarm Employment Change from Previous Month

Hours and Wages

Average weekly hours of all private employees was flat at at 34.5 hours. Average weekly hours of all private service-providing employees was flat at 33.3 hours. Average weekly hours of manufacturers fell 0.1 hours to 40.8 hours.

Average Hourly Earnings of All Nonfarm Workers rose $0.03 to $27.56. That a 0.11% gain. Average hourly earnings of private service-providing employees rose $0.08 to $27.35, a gain of 0.29%. Average hourly earnings of manufacturers fell $0.11 to $27.21, a loss of 0.40%.

Average hourly earnings of Production and Supervisory Workers rose $0.03 to $23.12. That's a 0.13% gain. Average hourly earnings of private service-providing employees rose $0.03 to $22.85, a gain of 0.13%. Average hourly earnings of manufacturers fell $0.04 to $21.81, a loss of 0.18%

Year-Over-Year Wage Growth

  • All Private Nonfarm from $26.71 to $27.56, a gain of 3.2%
  • All production and supervisory from $22.36 to $23.12, a gain of 3.4%.

For a discussion of income distribution, please see What’s “Really” Behind Gross Inequalities In Income Distribution?

Birth Death Model

Starting January 2014, I dropped the Birth/Death Model charts from this report. For those who follow the numbers, I retain this caution: Do not subtract the reported Birth-Death number from the reported headline number. That approach is statistically invalid. Should anything interesting arise in the Birth/Death numbers, I will comment further.

Table 15 BLS Alternative Measures of Unemployment

Table A-15 is where one can find a better approximation of what the unemployment rate really is.

Notice I said “better” approximation not to be confused with “good” approximation.

The official unemployment rate is 4.0%. However, if you start counting all the people who want a job but gave up, all the people with part-time jobs that want a full-time job, all the people who dropped off the unemployment rolls because their unemployment benefits ran out, etc., you get a closer picture of what the unemployment rate is. That number is in the last row labeled U-6.

U-6 is much higher at 8.1%. Both numbers would be way higher still, were it not for millions dropping out of the labor force over the past few years.

Some of those dropping out of the labor force retired because they wanted to retire. The rest is disability fraud, forced retirement, discouraged workers, and kids moving back home because they cannot find a job.

Strength is Relative

It’s important to put the jobs numbers into proper perspective.

  1. In the household survey, if you work as little as 1 hour a week, even selling trinkets on eBay, you are considered employed.
  2. In the household survey, if you work three part-time jobs, 12 hours each, the BLS considers you a full-time employee.
  3. In the payroll survey, three part-time jobs count as three jobs. The BLS attempts to factor this in, but they do not weed out duplicate Social Security numbers. The potential for double-counting jobs in the payroll survey is large.

Household Survey vs. Payroll Survey

The payroll survey (sometimes called the establishment survey) is the headline jobs number, generally released the first Friday of every month. It is based on employer reporting.

The household survey is a phone survey conducted by the BLS. It measures unemployment and many other factors.

If you work one hour, you are employed. If you don’t have a job and fail to look for one, you are not considered unemployed, rather, you drop out of the labor force.

Looking for jobs on Monster does not count as “looking for a job”. You need an actual interview or send out a resume.

These distortions artificially lower the unemployment rate, artificially boost full-time employment, and artificially increase the payroll jobs report every month.

Final Thoughts

Despite the alleged robust jobs picture, wages have not kept up with inflation, especially for those in school, those seeking to buy a home, and those who buy their own health insurance.

This report was one of the strangest in a long time: Jobs rose by 304,000 but the U6 unemployment rate jumped by 0.5 percentage points, the population declined by 649,000 and the two-month discrepancy between jobs and employment is enormous, with or without revisions.

More smelly revisions surely coming after this mess.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Comments (6)
No. 1-4
Casual_Observer
Casual_Observer

I tend to think 2018 was the aberration in U-6 and U-3. I suspect we are headed back to unemployment in the 4s and U-6 in the 8s. The real issue here is part time job growth is not sustainable. Companies will cut at the first sign of weakness.

bradw2k
bradw2k

if this is a bottoming, then ~1 year to US recession would rhyme with history

Realist
Realist

The monthly numbers fluctuate, but the trend remains; slow job and wage growth, and slow economic growth for 10 years now. I expect this to continue this year barring a black swan event.

themonosynaptic
themonosynaptic

It looks like the powers that be believe they have found a way to run 4 yards on every down then kick a field goal, and they've chosen that over throwing the ball and taking the risks of a big turnaround (recession) vs. a chance at a touchdown (boom years).