Economists expected a good number from the BLS today, or at least a relatively good number of new jobs added to the economy of about 200,000. They just missed to the high side, as the April job report found that the economy added 192,000 jobs, while the U-3 unemployment rate stayed at 6.7%:
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 192,000 in March, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment grew in professional and business services, in health care, and in mining and logging. …
The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more), at 3.7 million, changed little in March; these individuals accounted for 35.8 percent of the unemployed. The number of long-term unemployed was down by 837,000 over the year. (See table A-12.)
Both the civilian labor force and total employment increased in March. The labor force participation rate (63.2 percent) and the employment-population ratio (58.9 percent) changed little over the month. (See table A-1.) The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was little changed at 7.4 million in March. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time work. (See table A-8.)
In March, 2.2 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, little changed from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. (See table A-16.)
Among the marginally attached, there were 698,000 discouraged workers in March, down slightly from a year earlier. (These data are not seasonally adjusted.) Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them. The remaining 1.5 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in March had not searched for work for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities. (See table A-16.)
In other words, ADP got this one right. It’s slightly better than treading water … but not by much. The economy has to grow 150,000 jobs just to keep pace with population growth, so this is only a small, incremental step toward employing the unemployed. It’s a stagnation number.
The U-3 and U-6 numbers remained basically steady. The traditional U-3 unemployment rate has been at 6.7% for three of the last four months, but that relies on a definition of the workforce that has dramatically declined as a percentage of population over the last four years. The U-6 number solves for some of that, but that’s also remaining steady at 12.7% two of the last three months. The civilian workforce participation rate has increased a bit during that time too, and the workforce has increased about 760,000 since January — not a bad sign.
CNBC’s Jeff Cox considers this mildly good news:
Job creation returned to form in March as companies shook off some winter blues, albeit in a manner slightly below Wall Street expectations.
The economy added 192,000 new jobs for the month, while the unemployment rate held steady at 6.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The numbers were around consensus and less than indicative of a robust rebound, but still a sign that slowdowns in January and February likely were influenced at least somewhat by inclement conditions.
Well, that would be true, but …
The number was an improvement over February’s 197,000 gain, which was revised upward by 22,000. January’s total also moved higher in the revised count, from an anemic 129,000 to 144,000.
No, it wasn’t an improvement over the adjusted February numbers. It’s about the same with or without the inclement weather, which suggests that the issue isn’t really weather-related.
Reuters so far seems focused on the slight miss to expectations, at least in its front-page headline. But its live-blog lead blurb speaks to that phenomenon:
The US economy added 192,000 jobs, unemployment was unchanged at 6.7%. The number of long-term unemployed Americans is basically constant at 3.7 million.February’s number was revised up to 197,000 and average hourly earnings fell by a cent and are up just 2.1% since last March.
The headline numbers of jobs added and the overall unemployment are, however, becoming less relevant indicators of how strong or weak the labor market actually is. The US has been adding jobs at a low but steady rate for years, and unemployment has been falling. But the debate about what economists call slack in the labor market focuses on other indicators: wage growth (which has not been strong for several years), long-term unemployment, and the percentage of Americans participating in the jobs market.
The problem with gauging these reports against the pre-release consensus expectations is that the expectations are for continued mediocrity. Even if both February and March hit the 200,000 mark, we would need years to bring us back to a workforce participation rate and unemployment rate that matched our output before the Great Recession. Our economic policies over the recovery period of almost five years are not going to deliver that kind of growth, as we keep seeing in these mediocre expectations and even more mediocre results. The BLS report repeatedly notes “little changed” in its metrics, which is because little has changed in the last five years of stagnation.