Friday, April 8, 2011

Don't quit your day job

The latest government numbers show the unemployment rate dropping from 8.9 percent in February to 8.8 percent in March. Whoop de do.

This magic number is political now that we're in the 2012 election cycle. President Obama cheers the progress. You have to look deeper, however, to know what's really going on. The BBC 
does this for us;
Like all developed economies the United States has arrived at its method of counting the people who aren't working over many years and via some controversial choices. As a consequence the new and distinctly improved headline unemployment rate of 8.8% is in fact rather a narrow measure. To be counted among the 8.8% you have to be out of work and have actively looked for a job in the past four weeks.
What that means is that many people who have simply given up looking for work in a jobs markets worse than even their grandparents can remember, are not actually being counted as "unemployed".
Don't worry, they are still captured in the government statistics, they just get labelled as weird things like "marginally attached" or "discouraged" workers. So if you're "discouraged" as well as being out of work you don't get counted among the unemployed. And if you take the widest such measure of "labor underutilisation", which basically counts everyone who doesn't have a full time job, and blames that on economic reasons (as opposed to being sick or in training) then, currently you get a rate of 15.7%.
 Nearly one in six of the people in America who may want to work full time can't find a job. The political calculation:
The president will be acutely aware of the fact that since Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House, the highest unemployment rate that a president has presided over and managed to get re-elected to a second term in office is 7.2%. That was in 1984 when Ronald Reagan won a second term in the White House.
Gallup  does its own survey of unemployment. It's latest number is 10.2 percent in mid-March. Gallup doesn't make seasonal adjustments, as the government does. The government adjusts the numbers to reflect things like weather and Christmas hiring that occur each year. Gallup's take:
Contrary to the federal government's recent job reports, Gallup's unemployment and underemployment measures suggest that recent job increases have not been sufficient to significantly improve the jobs situation so far in 2011. Although both of Gallup's measures were marginally better in March, they remain higher now than they were in January.
When will things get better? Catherine Rampell writes in The New York Times:
The Great Recession dug the country’s job market into a very deep hole. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the economy today still has 5.3 percent fewer nonfarm payroll jobs than it had when the recession began in December 2007. If payroll growth continues apace with the gains experienced in March, it will take nearly three years for the economy to recover the jobs lost during the recession.
Don't quit your day job.

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