Unemployment rate at 8.1%, only 115K jobs added, participation rate shrinks again to new low

posted at 8:31 am on May 4, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

The April jobs report fell short of analysts expectations, as only 115,000 jobs were added.  Consensus expectations had been in the 165K-170K range, which still would have been below the rate jobs were added in February, January, and December.  While the jobless rate dropped slightly, the number of jobs added came in short of March’s disappointing level:

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 115,000 in April, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 8.1 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in professional and business services, retail trade, and health care, but declined in transportation and warehousing.

Both the number of unemployed persons (12.5 million) and the unemployment rate (8.1 percent) changed little in April. (See table A-1.)

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.5 percent), adult women (7.4 percent), teenagers (24.9 percent), whites (7.4 percent), and Hispanics (10.3 percent) showed little or no change in April, while the rate for blacks (13.0 percent) declined over the month. The jobless rate for Asians was 5.2 percent in April (not seasonally adjusted), little changed from a year earlier. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) was little changed at 5.1 million in April. These individuals made up 41.3 percent of the unemployed. Over the year, the number of long-term unemployed has fallen by 759,000. (See table A-12.)

So how did the jobless rate drop?  The same way it’s been dropping all along — people exiting the workforce:

The civilian labor force participation rate declined in April to 63.6 percent, while the employment-population ratio, at 58.4 percent, changed little.

That’s a new 30-year low in the participation rate.  Here’s the chart from the BLS for the last 30 years:

Note that the biggest and steepest plunge has taken place since the Obama recovery started in June 2009.

The U-6 rate held steady in April nonetheless at 14.5%, even with the increased exodus of workers from the workforce.

Update: CNBC notes that the actual employment level in the US fell by 169,000:

April’s job report lived up to muted expectations, with the economy creating a meager 115,000 jobs during the month as the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent. …

Though the headline number indicated job creation, the total employment level for the month actually fell 169,000.

“This remains a weak economy, and the job counts in March and April — which have come in at considerably below 200,000 per month — may perhaps continue right through the summer,” said Kathy Bostjancic, director of macroeconomic analysis at The Conference Board.

Wall Street economists had been expecting the Bureau of Labor Statistics report to show 170,000 new jobs created and the unemployment rate   holding steady at 8.2 percent.

That weakness will keep jobs and the economy at the top of the list for voter concerns, and keep Obama and his campaign on their mission to talk about any other distraction they can find from it.

Update II: Zero Hedge notes that 522,000 people left the workforce in April, or more than four times the number of net jobs gained in the BLS report.

Update III: Yes, but what does Reuters say?  The rose-colored-glasses wire service calls this a “mixed” report:

Employers decreased hiring for the second straight month in April but the unemployment rate still fell to 8.1 percent, giving mixed messages about the economy’s strength ahead of President Barack Obama’s November re-election bid.

Employers added 115,000 workers to their payrolls last month, the Labor Department said on Friday.

The reading keeps fears alive that the U.S. economy is losing momentum and dampens hopes that a stretch of strong winter hiring signaled a turning point for the recovery.

The unemployment rate ticked a tenth of a point lower to a three-year low, as people left the work force. The jobless rate is derived from a separate survey of households, which showed a drop in the number of jobs in April.

So what was the “mixed” part?  The BLS adjusted the jobs gains numbers in February and March upward, but you have to love how Reuters frames it:

Still, the government revised upward its initial estimates for payroll growth in February and March by a combined 53,000. That left the six-month average of job growth at 197,000, nearly exactly where it would have been had April job growth come in as expected at 170,000.

But, er … it didn’t.  So what does that tell us about the economy and jobs growth?  It ain’t a mixed message.

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