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Friday, March 4, 2011

February Unemployment: Good news?

I just pulled up the new employment situation report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It shows that the unemployment rate dropped to 8.9% and the country's emloyers added 192,000 private jobs in February 2011.

Should we start celebrating the drop in unemployment yet?

As someone looking for full-time work, I should be relieved to see these numbers, but there is a dark side as well.  First of all, I haven't yet looked at the "real" numbers; the numbers of people who have dropped out of the work force, the numbers who are working part-time.  And I haven't checked out the long-term unemployment rates:  Are those people, the people laid off in the first months of the recession; the older people, ever going to be hired?


The Meaning of Adjusted and Unadjusted Unemployment rates:

The Meaning of Seasonally Adjusted vs. Unadjusted Unemployment rates:

Read How the unemployment rate is calculated .  About halfway through the article there is a paragraph entitled "This Seasonal Adjustment Stuff is Hogwash."  It should explain it.


Good news:  Labor participation rate has finally flattened.  It had been decreasing every month; this month it is even with last month, at 64.2%.

Good news:  The numbers of people who are considered "long-term unemployed" has gone down

Not-so-good news:  The people "not in the labor force", a number which has increased by two million in the past year, continued its increase last month.

147 thousand people were added to the "civilian non-institutional population" during the month of February.  Of these 147 thousand new bodies, only 60 thousand entered the "civilian work force" (meaning they were either employed or actively looking for work).  The other 87 thousand were not seeking employment.  Some of the decrease in the monthly unemployment rate represents people who are not looking for work.  We simply do not have the statistics on why people aren't looking for work.

Good news:  The drop in the unemployment rate was widespread, even among teen-agers.

Bad news:  The mean (average) duration in unemployment continues to go up, from 36.9 weeks last month to 37.1 weeks this month.  On the average, people who are out of work continue to have a hard time finding work.

Good news:  The median duration of unemployment has gone down, from 21.8 weeks last month to 21.2 weeks this month.

Bad news:  The above figures point to a schism between the newly unemployed and the long-term unemployed.  It's clear that the newly unemployed are experiencing shorter durations of unemployment, while the long-term unemployed continue to struggle finding work.

Bad news:  The unadjusted rates continue to be gloomier than the adjusted rates.  The unadjusted unemployment numbers continue to show about 1,000,000 more unemployed people than the seasonally adjusted numbers, a schism that was also apparent last year.  Also, the unadjusted unemployment rate is 9.5% vs. 8.9%.  There has been a schism of .5 to .7% between the adjusted and and unadjusted unemployment rates all year.

Good news:  The U-6 rate, which includes people who are working part-time but want full-time and people "marginally attached" to the labor force, has also declined, between .2 and .6 % depending on whether or not you look at the seasonally or non-adjusted numbers.

Bad-good news:  The total number of people who are unemployed, working part-time but want full-time, and those who "want a job" but may not be actively looking continues to be extremely high at 29,696,000.  But last month this number was 30,767,000.  These are unadjusted numbers, representing actual people.  So, since last month, a total of about a million people either found work, found full-time (vs. part-time work), or no longer "want a job" for some reason.

440,000 people dropped out of the "part-time; want full-time" bucket, meaning that they either found full-time work, or they are now content with part-time work.   240,000 fewer now "want work", though it is unclear how many of those have completely dropped out of the job market, and how many found work.  Finally, 400,000 are no longer considered unemployed.  However, the total number of people who are now "employed" only increased 494,000, not enough to account for the decrease in the "want works" or the total number of unemployed people.

What happened to those 150,000 unaccounted-for people?  Did they go back to school full-time?  Retire?  Just decide to "stay home" for some reason?   What about people who have lost their homes and are either living with relatives or are out on the street?  Does the BLS make any attempt to follow up with this population?

And did the percentage of people working full-time vs. part-time really go down?  (I'll explore that later today, as those figures are available.)         .

Year-over-year comparisons: 

Over the past year, we have gone from an estimate of 15 million officially unemployed down to the current 13 1/2 million unemployed.  But only 875,000 more people are reporting themselves as "employed" this February vs. last February despite 2 million more people in the "civilian non-institutional population" during that time.

The "civilian work force" actually lost 300,000 people over the past year.  A whopping 2 million more people are considered "not in the work force" than were "not in the work force" a year ago.

Stay tuned for more updates later today and tomorrow as I crunch these numbers!

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