Friday, December 08, 2006

So, is 132,000 a lot?

The Associated Press' take on the latest US employment numbers from the BLS:
Employers boosted payrolls by a respectable 132,000 in November, but the unemployment rate edged up to 4.5 percent as jobseekers streamed into the labor market by the thousands with the onrushing holidays.

The tally of new jobs added to the economy last month marked an improvement from the 79,000 new positions generated in October and was the most since September, the Labor Department reported Friday. It was mostly a cheerful economic message at a time of year when shopping peaks.
So, is 132,000 new seasonally-adjusted jobs a lot?

This is a variant of one of my favorite questions I pose to my political economy students. For example, the World Bank claimed that static efficiency gains from completion of full liberalization through the Doha Round would deliver $287bn. Sounds like a lot -- but is it? (Here's your answer to that one.)

Let's compare November 2006 to the ghosts of Novembers past, and use the non-adjusted numbers. I like focusing on private sector jobs, too, rather than the whole enchilada, so these numbers are just for total private employment.

In November 2006 the US economy added 160,000 real private-sector jobs -- quite a lot fewer than in November 2005 (349,000) but a bit more than November 2004 (103,000). Over the past three months (September-November 2006), the US economy has destroyed 62,000 actual private sector jobs. Over the same period in 2005 the tally was +73,000; in 2004, +230,000.

So is the US economy doing a "respectable" job on jobs? In comparison to even the recent rather lackluster past, I think we have to respond with a resounding "no". Is it a "cheerful economic message"? Certainly to capital, which rejoices whenever labor is taking it on the chin. To the rest of us, perhaps we can hope for a Christmas Carol-like change of heart from old Mr. Scrooge. But I wouldn't just now take out a big loan to buy Tiny Tim a new pair of crutches.


At 10:42 AM, Anonymous PaulO said...

Great post.

At 9:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's skip the "preliminary" status of this number and avoid being drawn into Barry's remark (The Big Picture on your Blog Role) that there is some entertainment here.
No, I can't stand the competition.
Let's glance instead at Zandi's remark/release/delivery and the following AP commentary from your link:

The unemployment rate is low enough that it is enticing workers who had stepped out of the market to step back in," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's

The rate had declined to 4.4 percent in October, the best showing in five years.

Workers, many of whom have seen their paychecks whittled by inflation, saw wages pick up last month. Average hourly earnings rose to $16.94, a modest 0.2 percent increase from October.

I can't tell you how quickly Zandi's own remark sank his reputation as chief economist for me. Surely chief economists need to get a copy of the report before being stoned like this by AP reporters who are only doing their best.
There is the entertainment provided by huge revisions in the BLS and then there is the entertainment of the MSM commentary.

At 10:39 PM, Blogger Jim said...

The unemployment rate is low enough that it is enticing workers who had stepped out of the market to step back in

Huh? If I want a job, I can get one any day of the week regardless of the unemployment rate.

Now, if I want a job that supports my family... oh, by the way President Bush, thanks for doing such a poor job of enforcing immigration laws that employers know they can hire illegal workers all day long for half the price they would have to pay if the applicants were legal, thus making any job I apply for worth half what it takes to support a family.

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