So that was unpleasant: I guess we’ve all just become so used to healthy jobs report that a weak one like this comes as a nasty shock. And it is a bad report: for all that the margin of error is high, and the unemployment rate (which, remember, is basically the one number which matters politically) fell, the Establishment Survey was riddled through with weakness, both in terms of February’s numbers and in terms of revisions to December and January. Even weekly earnings fell.
I can’t remember the last time there was this much excitement and anticipation surrounding a payrolls number — and it’s another solid report. There were 227,000 new jobs created in March, and the already-excellent numbers from the previous two months being revised upwards: the figure for last month is now officially 284,000, a truly excellent number.
File this one under “unmitigated good news”: America’s employment situation turns out to have been rosier, at the end of 2011, than anyone had dared hope. There were 200,000 more people in work last month than there were in November, and the unemployment rate — by far the single most politically-important macroeconomic statistic — fell to 8.5%, the lowest rate in three years. All data series are noisy, of course, and we’ll surely see volatility in this one over the course of 2012. But it really does seem that there’s a bit of fire in the American belly right now, and that things are going to continue to get better over the course of this year unless and until some new crisis comes along.
When Occupy Wall Street launched, there were hopes and fears that it would recapitulate the Arab Spring. Those hopes and fears sprang largely from a simple fact: that both OWS and the Arab Spring are characterized in large part by angry, unemployed young people.
Today’s employment report counts as a win for the White House. Markets care about payrolls; politicians care about unemployment. And so does the country as a whole: the severity with which the BLS website crashes on the first Friday of the month is a direct function of the change in the headline unemployment rate, which, wonderfully, fell to just 8.6% last month.
There’s some encouraging news buried in this month’s employment report; you just can’t see it by looking at the headline numbers. Black unemployment is plunging, down to 15.1% in October from 16.7% in August. The number of long-term unemployed fell by 366,000 to 5.9 million, which is a decline of 2.2 percentage points. The broad U-6 unemployment rate fell by 0.3 percentage points, to 16.2%. And note those upward revisions to previous months, too: August’s zero is now +104,000, September was revised up to +158,000, and the twelve-month average is +125,000. Not good enough, but pointing in the right direction.
There’s no particularly good news in these numbers. For every glimmer of good news, like the upward revisions to previous reports totaling 100,000 new jobs or so, there’s an offsetting piece of bad news, like the broad U6 unemployment rate jumping up to 16.5% from 16.2%.