According to the BLS’s February jobs report, the unemployment rate fell slightly from January’s 7.9% to 7.7%:
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 236,000 in February, and the unemployment rate edged down to 7.7 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in professional and business services, construction, and health care.
Household Survey Data
The unemployment rate edged down to 7.7 percent in February but has shown little movement, on net, since September 2012. The number of unemployed persons, at 12.0 million, also edged lower in February. (See table A-1.) …
In February, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was about unchanged at 4.8 million. These individuals accounted for 40.2 percent of the unemployed. (See table A-12.)
The employment-population ratio held at 58.6 percent in February. The civilian labor force participation rate, at 63.5 percent, changed little. (See table A-1.)
CNN Money adds some analysis:
The unemployment rate fell partly because more people said they got jobs, but also because 130,000 people dropped out of the labor force. …
Private sector employers added 246,000 jobs. Employers have been adding jobs for three straight years, but it’s happening too gradually for the labor market to return to where it was at the beginning of the Great Recession. Overall, the U.S. economy lost 8.8 million jobs in the financial crisis, and has only gained back 5.6 million of those jobs since the labor market’s height in January 2008.
Update: So, is the uptick reason enough to be upbeat about the ongoing recovery? The report exceeded the expectations for February, and the construction industry came in especially strong with 48,000 jobs, the most in a month since 2007. Jim Cramer at CNBC attributes some of the hiring increase to the end of the fiscal-cliff uncertainty:
The labor force, however, contracted by 130k jobs, bringing the labor participation rate down to 63.5%, and HuffPo explains that long-term unemployment inched up again.
The number of Americans who have been jobless for at least six months inched up to 4.8 million after declining slightly in each of the previous months since October. The percentage of unemployed Americans out of work six months or longer increased to 40.2 percent after dipping below 40 percent in December and January for the first time since 2009.
“It’s significant,” Claire McKenna, a policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project, said of the uptick in long-term joblessness. “It’s hard to know what really explains the increase this month but obviously the problem of high long-term unemployment persists.”
Update: As James Pethokoukis puts it, getting excited about numbers like these is just embracing the weaksauce New Normal economy. Ah, the soothing balm of lowered expectations:
1. In January 2009, Team Obama economists predicted that the unemployment rate by 2013 would be 5.1% (and the economy would be booming at 4% annual growth). Heck, even without the stimulus, they thought the jobless rate would be down to 5.5%. That’s a big miss.
2. The labor force participation rate fell again as potential workers stopped looking for work. If the LFP rate was just where it was a year ago, in February 2012, the official unemployment rate would 8.3%. And if the LFP rate was where it was in January 2009, the unemployment rate would be 10.8%. Does the the aging of the US workforce make that 2009 number less relevant? Probably. But have demographics changed that radically over the past 12 months? Doubtful. …
6. The employment-population ratio is exactly where it was a year ago, at an almost rock-bottom 58.6%.