U.S. added 200,000 jobs in December; unemployment rate at 8.5%; U-6 falls to 15.2%

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics press release this a.m.:

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 200,000 in December, and the unemployment rate, at 8.5 percent, continued to trend down, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job gains occurred in transportation and warehousing, retail trade, manufacturing, health care, and mining.

A couple of things worth noting right off: 8.5% unemployment is still very high, although the downward trend from a revised 8.7% in November is obviously positive, and 200,000 jobs a month is more than enough to keep pace with population growth, but not enough to bring us back to pre-recession levels of employment for a number of years.

The unemployment rate comes from a survey of households. A couple key details there:

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was
little changed at 5.6 million and accounted for 42.5 percent of the unemployed.
(See table A-12.)

The civilian labor force participation rate (64.0 percent) and the employment-
population ratio (58.5 percent) were both unchanged over the month. (See
table A-1.)

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes
referred to as involuntary part-time workers) declined by 371,000 to 8.1
million in December. These individuals were working part time because their
hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.
(See table A-8.)

About 2.5 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force in
December, little different from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally
adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were
available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months.
They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in
the 4 weeks preceding the survey. (See table A-16.)

The participation rate is likely to rise as the economy improves, which is one key reason many analysts expect the unemployment rate to remain elevated.

The estimate on the total number of nonfarm payroll jobs comes from a survey of establishments. More on that:

Over the past 12 months, nonfarm payroll employment has risen by 1.6 million. Employment in the private sector rose by 212,000 in December and by 1.9 million over the year. Government employment changed little over the month but fell by 280,000 over the year.

After a quick look at the data, I’m struck by the really high rates among young people who are participating in the labor force: 23.1% for 16 to 19 year olds and 14.4% for 20 to 24 year olds.

U-6, a broader measure of unemployment that includes “total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force,” fell to 15.2%, down from 15.6% in November and down from 16.6% a year ago.

And here’s an updated graph from Calculated Risk, which shows the current trend but also how far we have to go to get back to the employment peak of 2007: