The May Employment/Unemployment Report: Some Perspective, Please

June 2nd, 2006 1:56 PM
The good news:

The unemployment rate of 4.6% is the lowest since June 2001.

The not-as-good news: The jobs increase of 75,000 is even smaller than indicated by May's figure alone, as March and April were revised downward by 25,000 and 12,000, respectively. So the net increase in the number of people working is at the end of May is 38,000 than what was originally reported at the end of April.

I don't even have to tell you whether the business press is focusing more energy on the reduction in the unemployment rate or the mediocre jobs number, do I? Typical is MSNBC headlining an report: "US Employment Growth Stalls in May." (New Media's Drudge, by contrast, has focused on the positive with a simple headline "4.6%" since the BLS release until the time of this post.)

So how about some perspective? Let's take a look at those who aren't working for a moment. This is from the full Bureau of Labor Statistics announcement today:

Persons Not in the Labor Force (Household Survey Data)

About 1.4 million persons (not seasonally adjusted) were marginally attached to the labor force in May, the same as a year earlier. These individuals 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. Among the marginally attached, there were 323,000 discouraged workers in May, down from 392,000 a year earlier. Discouraged workers were not currently looking for work specifically because they believed no jobs were available for them. The other 1.1 million marginally attached had not searched for work for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities.

George Bush can't make discouraged workers look for work, but conditions have improved to the point that there are about 18% fewer of them than a year ago. George Bush also can't make people decide to put work over family and self-improvement through education.

And not that it's the be-all end-all, but the stock market liked the report because the jobs number may mean inflation isn't as big a potential problem as has been thought.

Also, don't forget yesterday's outstanding productivity and wage gains news:

The productivity of American workers rebounded at a rapid clip at the start of this year and wages posted a solid gain as well, the government reported Thursday.

The Labor Department said that productivity, the key factor in rising living standards, rose at an annual rate of 3.7 percent in the January-March quarter, better than the 3.2 percent increase initially estimated a month ago. Salaries and benefits per unit of output rose by 1.6 percent after having fallen by 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter.

Though the media energy is and will be on the jobs number, it's ridiculous to try to claim that the employment or economic picture is bleak.

And at some point someone ought to break the ice and ask: How many of the 7 million unemployed, particularly blacks (8.9% unemployed) and teenagers (14.1%), could be working if jobs they could do weren't being done by ..... by ..... by illegal immigrants?

Cross-posted at