Unemployment rate steady at 9.7%

Given the spin that the Obama administration applied to expectations this week on unemployment numbers, the reality looks rosy by comparison.  Larry Summers talked about the severe impact on employment from the mid-Atlantic snowstorms in February, but the unemployment rate held steady at 9.7%.  However, employment dropped by another 36,000:

In February, the number of unemployed persons, at 14.9 million, was essentially unchanged, and the unemployment rate remained at 9.7 percent. (See table A-1.)

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (10.0 percent), adult women (8.0 percent), whites (8.8 percent), blacks (15.8 percent), Hispanics (12.4 percent), and teenagers (25.0 percent) showed little to no change in February. The jobless rate for Asians was 8.4 percent, not seasonally adjusted. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) was 6.1 million in February and has been about that level since December. About 4 in 10 unemployed persons have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. (See table A-12.)

In February, the civilian labor force participation rate (64.8 percent) and the employment-population ratio (58.5 percent) were little changed. (See
table A-1.)

Did the weather contribute to the drop of 36,000 jobs, more than January’s 26,000-job loss (a revision downward from the originally-reported 20,000)?  Perhaps, but the BLS notes that construction losses (64,000) match the pattern of losses over the previous six months.  The information sector lost 18,000 jobs, almost certainly unlikely to have been weather-related.  Retail employment flattened out, negating one of the bright spots from January.

More worrisome is a 500,000 increase in workers forced into part-time work by economic conditions:

The number of persons working part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) increased from 8.3 to 8.8 million inFebruary, partially offsetting a large decrease in the prior month. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job. (See table A-8.)

And the number of marginally attached and discouraged workers continued to climb:

About 2.5 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force in February, an increase of 476,000 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 1.2 million discouraged workers in February, up by 473,000 from a year earlier. (The 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 1.3 million persons marginally attached to the labor force had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities.

Once again, the topline unemployment rate is masking the fact that we’re still losing jobs.  Remember that population growth requires around 100K-125K new jobs opening every month just to maintain the status quo.  We’re still losing jobs, and we’re pushing more people out of the work force.

Ed Morrissey Nov 29, 2021 8:25 AM ET