Ed Dolan's Econ Blog

February Jobs Market Report Shows Across the Board Strength

The latest report from the BLS shows across the board strength in the U.S. jobs market. Data on payroll jobs, unemployment rates, and labor force participation all showed a gradually strengthening economy.

The headline increase of 227,000 new payroll jobs (233,000 in the private sector) was down a little from the January report. However, that slight decrease was more than offset by strong upward revisions to previous reports. Job growth for December, first reported at 200,000, has now been revised upward to 223,000. January’s number was raised from 243,000 to 284,000, which makes that month’s gain the strongest since May 2010.

A recent backgrounder on the methodology of jobs data by Jeffrey Miller explains some of the reasons the job data is subject to extensive revision. Miller, who believes that the BLS is honest and does a good job, cautions against placing too much emphasis on the first numbers released for each month, which are based on an incomplete data set. Anyone looking for signs of a stronger economy can take heart from the fact that recent revisions have systematically been in the upward direction, as shown in this chart:

Both goods-producing and service sectors showed job gains for the month, although services were stronger. Employment services, including temporary help services, health care, and leisure sectors led the growth of service jobs.

Government jobs continued to decrease at both the federal and state levels. The one bright spot was local government education, which showed a gain of 5,200 jobs.

The headline unemployment rate was unchanged for the month at 8.3 percent. That might not seem like good news, but in fact, the unemployment rate did well to hold steady in the face of strong growth of the labor force. In net terms, some 475,000 workers entered the labor force in the month, of whom 428,000 found employment and 47,000 began looking for work without immediately finding it.

There was also a decrease in U-6, the broad unemployment rate. U-6 is a supplementary measure of employment insecurity that includes discouraged workers and people working part time who would prefer full-time employment if they could find it. U-6 fell from 15.1 percent in January to 14.9 percent in February, still high, but lower than any month since January 2009.

To complete the picture, the employment-population ratio edged up by a tenth of a point to 58.6 percent, continuing its rise from the historic low of 58.1 percent it reached in July 2011. Any upward movement in this statistic is welcome, since it is moving against the headwind of a steady increase in the percentage of the population that is of retirement age.

No doubt going over the numbers with a fine-tooth comb could uncover some bad news. Considering that the natural rate of unemployment is probably now around 6 percent, we all would like to see the unemployment gap closing faster. Still, in the context of a weak global economy, the February report is broadly positive.

4 Responses to “February Jobs Market Report Shows Across the Board Strength”

rjsigmundMarch 9th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

when you say "some 475,000 workers entered the labor force in the month, of whom 428,000 found employment and 47,000 began looking for work without immediately finding it." i assume you're aggregating the totals, right?

its an odd construct; makes it seem like almost anyone who gets off the couch can find a job…

Ed Dolan EdDolanMarch 9th, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Yes, it really is just a shorthand way of putting it. I added the "net" to indicate I was aggregating, but you're right, taken at face value the statement is misleading. Since there were more than 12 million unemployed in February, it is theoretically possible that 428,000 of those, who were already in the labor force, found jobs and a different 475,000 entered the labor force, all of whom became unemployed. In reality, some people jump right into jobs when they enter the labor force; some enter, spend a couple months looking, and then find a job; and some enter, look around, find nothing, and drop out again.

jrj90620March 13th, 2012 at 9:47 pm

So unemployment goes down,while inflation goes up.I doubt it's an even trade off,considering all the waste of anything done by govt.Likely the decline overall standard of living will be greater from higher prices for 98% of the population, than the gains from 3% of the population finding employment.

Ed Dolan EdDolanMarch 14th, 2012 at 12:10 am

jrj: A subtle philosophical point. If, by pushing a button, you could send 3% of people into poverty and despair by taking their jobs away, but in compensation cut 3% from the cost of living of the rest, would you push the button?