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Opinion: Why the Job Numbers Aren't As Bad as You Think

Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - 04:23 PM

hiring, jobs, business, economy (TheTruthAbout/flickr)

The latest national jobs numbers coming from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) aren't pretty. As with most of the last couple years, they could be worse, but they aren't good. We're still bringing more people into the economy than there are jobs being created, and the trend might scare employers on the fence, considering hiring people to meet demand that might not be there in a few months. It also might affect the job prospects of a certain Barry Obama.

It sounds off, but it's actually not a bad thing that the unemployment percentage went up. It went up because more people are getting off of the bench to look for work. The worst thing that can happen is for people to just up and quit looking for work. It's not a big change, but seeing the labor participation rate go up from 63.6 percent to 63.8 percent is a small step in the right direction.

Every person who gets a job — even if the total is a low number like  it was this month — adds to the economy and increases the demand on businesses they frequent, which leads to more job growth over time.
Another mediocre improvement was that the unemployment level among teenagers went down from 24.9 to 24.6, perhaps because of an increase in summer seasonal jobs.

The services industry was a wash, with jobs being lost in some areas, but gained in others. The BLS also reported that several other major industries were largely flat, including mining, retail trade, and leisure and hospitality.

For the bad news... Manufacturing employment growth has been an unexpected help to unemployment. It was unfortunate to see that employment there went from a 16,000 job gain, to a 12,000 job gain this month. Construction work also took a hit, dropping 28,000 jobs.

For the ugly... The top line number, only 69,000 jobs added last month, was made worse by a revision of the previous month's numbers from 115,000 to 77,000, and the month before that was brought down 9,000. So, in a way, put those together and the net gain for May is only about 22,000.

The average hours per workweek also edged down, from 34.5 hours per week to 34.4. This likely reflects the increase in part-time workers that are in the subset in their data for "Could only find part-time work", from 2.367 million to 2.649 million. If you didn't catch that, that means just over four times as many people than were added to payrolls this month shifted or were added into that area. 561,000 were also added to the "Part time for noneconomic reasons", meaning conflicts with other obligations in life.

The big story since these number came out is how it might affect the race. I'll be interested to see how polling numbers in swing states shift over the next week or so. Camp Obama should be worried. If overall job growth keeps only inching forward, and is offset several times over with shifts from full time to part-time work... I can't imagine that will do anything good for his reelection chances.

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