Unemployment rate falls to 8.6%, but addition of 120,000 jobs is still mediocre

According to preliminary data released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy added a seasonally adjusted 120,000 jobs in November. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell from 9% to 8.6%.

That’s about the number of jobs that we need to add each month to keep pace with population growth, so it’s a sort-of-OK improvement at best.

Why did the unemployment rate drop so much when job growth was mediocre? The jobs data and the unemployment data come from two different surveys. The jobs numbers come from a survey of establishments that hire workers, while the unemployment numbers come from a survey of households.

The unemployment rate fell primarily because approximately 400,000 315,000 Americans left the labor force.

Some snippets from the BLS release this morning (all the text in the bullets is quoted from this page):

  • Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for adult men fell by 0.5 percentage point to 8.3 percent in November. The jobless rate for whites (7.6 percent) also declined, while the rates for adult women (7.8 percent), teenagers (23.7 percent), blacks (15.5 percent), and Hispanics (11.4 percent) showed little or no change. The jobless rate for Asians was 6.5 percent, not seasonally adjusted.
  • Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 120,000 in November, in line with the average gain for the prior 12 months (+131,000). The private sector added 140,000 jobs, as employment rose in a number of service-providing industries. Government employment continued to trend down.
  • The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for September was revised from +158,000 to +210,000, and the change for October was revised from +80,000 to +100,000. [Major gains]

Here’s how the job losses in this recession and recovery compare to other post WWII recessions. From Calculated Risk:

It’s interesting that the job recovery slope is so similar right now to what happened after the 2001 recession.

I’ll have more later on other measures of unemployment.