A few thoughts on the May employment report showing 217,000 new jobs added in U.S., unemployment rate at 6.3%, and total employment at all-time high

The U.S. economy probably needs to add somewhere around 120,000 jobs per month to keep up with population growth, so the May Employment Situation showing 217,000 more jobs is pretty good news.

First some info, then a few comments.

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 217,000 in May, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in professional and business services, health care and social assistance, food services and drinking places, and transportation and warehousing.

Household Survey Data

The unemployment rate held at 6.3 percent in May, following a decline of 0.4 percentage point in
April. The number of unemployed persons was unchanged in May at 9.8 million. Over the year, the
unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons declined by 1.2 percentage points and 1.9
million, respectively. […]

Establishment Survey Data

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 217,000 in May, with gains in professional and business services, health care and social assistance, food services and drinking places, and transportation and warehousing. Over the prior 12 months, nonfarm payroll employment growth had averaged 197,000 per month.

A couple of graphs from the BLS:

Picture 650

Picture 649

U-6 unemployment has been steadily declining and now stands at a seasonally adjusted 12.2 percent, down from 13.8 percent in May 2013. U-6 is: “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.”

There’s a good argument to be made that we should be looking at U-6 unemployment instead of the U-3 measure that we typically report.

The labor force participation rate is another important number. Here’s the latest on that: “The civilian labor force participation rate was unchanged in May, at 62.8 percent. The participation rate has shown no clear trend since this past October but is down by 0.6 percentage point over the year.”

The labor force participation rate has been and will likely continue to trend downward because of demographic changes, primarily the retiring baby boomers. The rate clearly also declined during the recession, as frustrated job seekers gave up looking for work. Some websites and commentators have been using alarmist rhetoric about the participation rate, but it’s still higher than it was throughout much of U.S. history.

As always Calculated Risk has some great commentary: Comment: U.S. Employment at All Time High

CR’s coverage includes this update graph, which shows just how deep this recession was:


Given the extremity of the job losses in 2008 and the first part of 2009, and given the severity of the financial crisis, and given the slow recovery due to the weakness in the housing sector and government austerity, I think we’ve actually recovered jobs more quickly than one could have reasonable expected, especially since we created additional obstacles for ourselves, e.g., insufficient stimulus, brinksmanship over the debt limit, etc.

By the way, according to CR, the projected private sector job gains this year will make 2014 the best since 1999.

Too bad all these commentators bemoaning slow job growth under Obama weren’t being as vigilant under Bush, when the private sector ended up with a net loss of jobs over 8 years.