This morning’s employment data was expected to disappoint – and it did. There were only 126,000 net new jobs added, the lowest since January 2014 and only enough to cover the monthly population increase. The American Job Shortage Number, which gives how many additional new positions that could be quickly filled, improved greatly. Why?
First, the AJSN is not seasonally adjusted, and, as virtually always, more people worked in March than in the previous February. Second, a key set of people marginally attached to the labor force, those not working but not officially unemployed either – Americans wanting to work but not having looked for at least a year – dropped a surprising 420,000 to 3,320,000. Not much else changed greatly, so the AJSN came out for March’s data as follows:
For other numbers, the official, seasonally adjusted, jobless rate held steady at 5.5%, while the unadjusted version fell from 5.8% in February to 5.6% in March. The four key secondary indicators were mixed. The number of people officially unemployed for 27 weeks or longer was down from 2.7 million to 2.6 million, and those working part-time for economic reasons, or wanting a full-time job and not finding one, rose from 6.6 million to 6.7 million. The remaining two, the best measures of how common it actually is for Americans to work, the labor force participation rate and the employment to population ratio, were down 0.1% to 62.7% and unchanged at 59.3% respectively. Average wages increased 7 cents per hour, for an annually compounded rate of about 4% – hardly a windfall, but still much more than inflation.
Compared with a year ago, the AJSN continued its improvement, though this time due only to a drop in official unemployment. In March 2014, there were 1.85 million more technically jobless Americans, cutting the AJSN down almost 1.7 million, but several other statuses, especially expatriates, those wanting to work but not looking for at least a year, and those saying they did not want a job at all, went up enough to offset more than 500,000 of that. Although fewer and fewer people indeed are contributing to those officially unemployed, many more who don’t qualify for that would take jobs if they thought they had a chance.
So what do we make of March? As with the year-over-year comparison, the secondary numbers are not encouraging. The gap between official unemployment and how many jobs could actually be absorbed continues to grow. Of the almost 18.6 million new positions that could be filled quickly, only 42% would go to those technically jobless – the rest would be filled by people with other statuses, almost all of which, even in these solidly non-recession times, are steadily growing. That is something to think about as we look at the turtle, who is now standing still.