The Bureau of Labor Statistics March employment and unemployment data has arrived. The bad news was that official joblessness ticked up to 5.0%, taking its first worsening since May to return to the level where it sat from October through December. Although the absolute number of unemployed edged down, there are still 2.2 million officially jobless people who have been out for 27 weeks or longer. The number working part-time for economic reasons, or hired less than full-time and unsuccessfully seeking that, was up 100,000 to 6.1 million. Average wages, after dropping 3 cents per hour in February, gained back 8 cents, more than inflation but nothing special considering previous months.
Otherwise, almost all of the data was positive. Once again the number of nonfarm payroll positions increased more than population change alone could absorb, this time 215,000. The two indicators of how common it actually is for Americans to be working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, not only did not fall back or even stay the same after February’s unusually large gains but went up again, to reach 63.0% and 59.9% respectively. Most categories of those marginally attached to the labor force, or neither employed nor officially jobless, lost people, led by a superb 500,000-plus drop in those wanting work but not seeking it for a year or more.
The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the measure which shows in one figure how many additional positions could be quickly filled if getting one were as easy as buying groceries, takes shares of 11 different employment statuses, and, this month, fell 356,000, as follows:
Compared with a year before, especially important since the AJSN is not seasonally adjusted, the measure is down 767,000, mostly due to lower unemployment but also because of shrinkage in the two most important secondary numbers, those discouraged and those not looking for a year or more.
Despite the worsening in what is still the most known and publicized employment number, the official seasonally-adjusted jobless share, March was a robust month. With the labor force participation rate and employment-population ratio a big 0.6% higher than only six months ago, it is clear that many people are indeed going back to work, and, for once, not just slipping into marginal labor-force attachment. There are still too many Americans without jobs, and a shortage of 17.8 million of them is a lot, but we are clearly moving in the right direction. The turtle stretched his tendons in March with another good step forward.