The headlines on articles about the Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report today will say that payroll employment jumped more last month than any since at least the summer of 2012. There were 321,000 more people in jobs than in October, which caps off a long series of months in which more positions were added than the population increase covered.
That is a good thing – in fact a superb thing – but, looking at the number of additional jobs America could quickly absorb, we wouldn’t know it. So what happened?
First, both the seasonally adjusted and unadjusted unemployment rates were unchanged, at 5.8% and 5.5% respectively. Second, despite the employment gain, the number of officially jobless was down only 50,000 to 8.63 million. Third, the number of people officially described as “marginally attached” to the labor force more or less broke even, with fewer reporting as discouraged and immediately unavailable for “other” reasons, but 117,000 more saying they wanted a job but did not look for one for at least the previous year. In all, the American Job Shortage Number, or AJSN, was almost stationary, as follows:
What I call the four BLS “foundation” measures all either improved slightly or treaded water. The count of those officially jobless for 27 weeks or longer dropped 100,000 to 2.8 million, and the number working part-time for economic reasons, or wanting a full-time opportunity but not finding one, fell the same to 6.9 million. The proportions giving the shares of people on the front lines of employment, though, both held steady, with civilian labor force participation holding at 62.8% and the employment to population ratio still 59.2%. These two measures give us the best idea of the pervasiveness of American work, which is still roughly as low as it’s been since Jimmy Carter’s first full year as president.
Compared with a year ago, the AJSN came in almost exactly one million lower. In November 2013, there were 1.6 million more Americans officially jobless, but 562,000 fewer saying they hadn’t looked for a year or longer, and 225,000 more willing to work in principle but not able to right now. These 12- month improvements, while still substantial, are now becoming smaller.
So what can we take from this month’s AJSN? It shows us that even when one of the most valuable statistics – in this case, the number of net new jobs – excels, that still does not mean a smaller American job shortage. Over 18 million people wishing they could work is a lot, whether they are technically unemployed or not, and of course the AJSN does not account at all for those looking since May or before, or for those working only part-time not by choice.
Accordingly, regardless of the payroll increase, the turtle sat still last month.