This morning’s monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data had an odd pattern. All the most important numbers were larger. That held for those where increases were good as well as bad. What happened?
First, the favorable. What is rightfully now the marquee figure, the number of net new nonfarm positions, came in at 227.000, almost 100,000 more than our population increase could have absorbed. The two metrics showing best how many Americans are actually working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, each rose a large 0.2% to 62.9% and 59.9% respectively. Average hourly earnings, which gained 6 cents per hour (adjusted down from 10 cents) last time, did not backtrack, but solidified that with another 3-cent rise to $26.00.
The other major numbers did not do as well. Both seasonally adjusted and unadjusted unemployment shares rose, 0.1% to 4.8% and 0.6% to 5.1%. The count of those officially jobless for 27 weeks or more went up 100,000 to 1.9 million. Those working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping less than full-time positions while unsuccessfully seeking ones with more hours, jumped 200,000 to 5.8 million.
The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, showing in one figure how many additional positions could be filled if getting one were quick and easy, gained 1.3 million. Although that reflects mostly the usual large difference between January and December employment, as the AJSN is not seasonally adjusted, its gain was broad-based, with high latent demand increases coming not only from people officially jobless, but from those not looking for work in the previous year and those describing themselves as discouraged. Overall, the AJSN came in at just over 18.3 million, as follows:
Compared with a year before, though, the AJSN is almost unchanged. January 2016’s was 18.36 million, with higher official unemployment and more discouraged workers offset by losses in non-civilian, institutionalized and unaccounted for, expatriate, and those not looking for the previous year.
So how did we do last month? With such a large difference in how many people are working between January and holiday-work-rich December, the year-over-year comparison is most important. That showed essentially no advance. However, four numbers – net new positions gained, average wages, and both employment percentages – improved, and did not need to. Our multi-year job situation gains are not quite topping out, so the turtle once again stepped forward.