This morning’s Employment Situation Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was easy to assess. We did far better than the forecasted 650,000 net new nonfarm payroll positions with 916,000. Seasonally adjusted and unadjusted joblessness improved 0.2% and 0.4% respectively to 6.0% and 6.2%. There were 9.7 million unemployed people, or 300,000 fewer than a month before. The reduced count of those on temporary layoff included 200,000 of those and is now at 2.0 million. The two best measures of how many Americans are either working or officially jobless, the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate, grew 0.2% and 0.1% and are now at 57.8% and 61.5%. The number of those working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping short-hours propositions while looking thus far unsuccessfully for full-time ones, lost 300,000 to 5.8 million. The figure which we now want to get worse, since its height means many low-paying jobs have gone away, average private nonfarm payroll earnings, lost 5 cents to $29.96 per hour. The sole major statistic not to improve in March, the count of those technically unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, rose 100,000 to 4.1 million.
The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the metric showing how many positions, on top of those now open, could be quickly filled if all knew they could get them, had a good month as well, as follows:
Two-thirds of the AJSN’s 765,000 improvement over February was from lower unemployment, with over 80% of the rest from a reduced count of those wanting work but not looking for it for a year or more. The share of the AJSN from those officially jobless, 43.6%, was down 0.9%.
On the Covid-19 front we made superb headway as well, even though the numbers here do not reflect the full effect of massively greater dose manufacturing and distribution. Per The New York Times, from February 16th to March 16th, the seven-day average of new American cases fell 32% from 81,217 to 54,959, while that for deaths was off from 2,183 to 1,303 or 40%, and hospitalizations lost 43% from 73,187 to 41,660. The same average of daily vaccinations gained 42% from 1,716,311 to 2,435,037.
It all looks like a great month, and it was, but what’s the catch? It’s that we can’t forget how far behind we still are. Compared with March 2020, when the pandemic had already added almost two million to the AJSN, we are still 3.1 million higher, and the difference is broad-based. Other employment measures, such as the naggingly high new weekly jobless claims most recently at 719,000 or triple a typical pre-pandemic reading, would still be out of place as recently as early last year. We are doing the job admirably on both fronts, but we have a long way to go. Accordingly, the turtle, while taking a tendon-taxing step forward, can still see way in front of him territory he already passed through.