December jobs report: 155K jobs added, jobless rate stays at 7.8%

If Barack Obama hoped for a boost in jobs numbers from the Christmas season, the BLS left him not much more than a lump of coal and a couple of sticks in his stocking.  Despite an optimistic report from ADP yesterday, the jobs market only added 155,000 jobs in December, barely above population-growth requirements, while the jobless rate rose slightly to 7.8%. The news was worse for women and black workers:

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 155,000 in December, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 7.8 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in health care, food services and drinking places, construction, and manufacturing.

The number of unemployed persons, at 12.2 million, was little changed in December. The unemployment rate held at 7.8 percent and has been at or near that level since September. (See table A-1.)

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult women (7.3 percent) and blacks (14.0 percent) edged up in December, while the rates for adult men (7.2 percent), teenagers (23.5 percent), whites (6.9 percent), and Hispanics (9.6 percent) showed little or no change. The jobless rate for Asians was 6.6 percent (not seasonally adjusted), little changed from a year earlier. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

The underlying measures didn’t improve at all.  The employment-population ratio actually declined by a tenth of a point to 58.6%, near the 2012 low of 58.5% and far below the consistent pre-recession levels — or even the levels seen at the recovery point in June 2009. The civilian labor force participation rate also remained stuck at 63.6%,  near the 31-year lows achieved in 2012 of 63.5%.  The obvious conclusion is that the workforce isn’t expanding at all relative to population growth.

The alternate measure of under/unemployment, U-6, stayed steady at 14.4% however. That would indicate that the situation isn’t getting worse, either.  Instead, we’re still stuck in stagnation at the bottom of the cycle.

The AP considers this good news, noting that “hiring held up” despite the fiscal-cliff brinksmanship in December.  But “holding up” is a curious assessment at this level, as even the AP admits that part of the hiring boost was temporary — and it still didn’t amount to a needle-changer:

Robust hiring in manufacturing and construction fueled the gains. Construction added 30,000 jobs, the most in 15 months. That likely reflects additional hiring needed to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy and also solid gains in home building that have contributed to a housing recovery.

Manufacturing gained 25,000, the most in nine months.

Even with the gains, hiring is far from accelerating. Employers added an average of 153,000 jobs a month last year, matching the monthly average in 2011.

Actually, we’re barely keeping up with population growth, as the workforce numbers show.  We are a long way from creating enough jobs to put people back into the workforce and back to work.

CNBC did a better job in reporting on the stagnation, although you have to get past its cheery “gradual improvement” in the lead to discover that nothing is actually improving:

Two closely watched measures showed little change for the month.

The labor force participation rate, which measures workers and those looking for jobs, remained mired at 63.6 percent, a 30-year low.

A separate measure that includes those who have given up looking and those working part-time for economic reasons held at 14.6 percent.

That’s not an “improvement.” For more than three years of “recovery,” the workforce has been shrinking and jobs have been barely keeping up with the number of new workers coming into the economy.  It would be nice if the media could pretend that there is a Republican in the White House and report what those workforce numbers actually mean.

Update: A couple of months ago, the Household Survey showed an anomalous increase of more than 870,000 jobs, which created a huge media stir right before the election, even though the official jobs added number comes from the Establishment Survey.  Table A-1 shows this month that only 28,000 jobs got added in the Household Survey, while the number of unemployed in the survey rose by 166,000.  Think the media will report on that?