The latest survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for April says that employers hired 244,000 new workers over the course of the month. But the topline unemployment rate rose to 9.0%, and the employment-population ratio actually dipped to 58.4%, which is actually 0.3% lower than a year ago.
Employers are hiring, and this is the third straight month with increases over 200,000 (February was revised up to +235,000, and March to +221,000). But with so many long-term unemployed people returning to the labor force, as well as young people entering it, the pace of recovery is not consistent with large gains in the topline unemployment rate or the EPOP.
For the first time in a while, the number of long-term unemployed declined, adjusting down 283,000 to 5.8 million; this could be a good sign that long-term unemployed are finding work, or that they have been out of work more than five years and dropped off the BLS survey completely. The median duration in weeks of unemployment dropped to 20.7.
There remain a lot of discouraged workers, long-term unemployed, forced part-time workers who cannot get more hours, and the like. What’s more, the jobs being added to the economy are in lower-wage areas like retail and service-providing industries. Manufacturing jobs also increased (with factory overtime going up), while construction remained low. Private payrolls went up 268,000, which means the public sector continued its decline, dropping 24,000 jobs in April.
The jobs report is mixed – job creation is good, an increase in the unemployment rate is bad – but you can supplement it with a number of bad data points over the last week. Perhaps the popping of the oil bubble will help, as consumer spending gets diverted away from gas over time as the price falls. But that hasn’t happened yet, and in the meantime, government is asleep at the switch. Here’s Paul Krugman:
Employment has risen from its low point, but it has grown no faster than the adult population. And the plight of the unemployed continues to worsen: more than six million Americans have been out of work for six months or longer, and more than four million have been jobless for more than a year.
It would be nice if someone in Washington actually cared.
It’s not as if our political class is feeling complacent. On the contrary, D.C. economic discourse is saturated with fear: fear of a debt crisis, of runaway inflation, of a disastrous plunge in the dollar. Scare stories are very much on politicians’ minds.
Yet none of these scare stories reflect anything that is actually happening, or is likely to happen. And while the threats are imaginary, fear of these imaginary threats has real consequences: an absence of any action to deal with the real crisis, the suffering now being experienced by millions of jobless Americans and their families.
The jobs report in April doesn’t really change this.
UPDATE: It is true that the rise in the unemployment rate probably reflects a technical correction, due to the fact that the rate fell appreciably in preceding months without the job numbers to back it up. Still, all that says is that the rate is probably legitimately 9.0%, which is not good.