As I expected, the jobs report released by the BLS today was terrible — at least terrible for those clinging to the belief that America’s economy is roaring back, and not great either for workers seeking jobs. Yes, unemployment went down to 6.6%; but that was a genuine advance for reasons I will cover below.
The big number was a tiny number — the revision to the December jobs report. That report was so anomalously awful: 74,000 jobs created in the month, about one-third the number in the preceding months, that it was widely expected to be revised upwards significantly when more data came in. In fact, the revision was only 1,000 more jobs, to a still awful 75,000. What’s more the bounce-back in January was very modest: 113,000 new jobs in January was only one-half the average level of 2013.
So we have now had two back-to-back months of truly dreadful job creation numbers. And the Fed is determined to continue to taper (as they probably should; the economy needs fiscal stimulus, not monetary), and the European Central Bank is not going to aggressively fight the signs of possible deflation there.
The unemployment number went down. That is because of an annual population adjustment that the Bureau makes to its estimate of the number of workers. Based on these adjustments from the household survey, the nation had 499,000 more people in the civilian labor force, and 616,000 more who were employed, than were counted in the previous year. These adjustments led to an increase in the estimate of people in the labor force, raising participation by a few tenths of a point, and the percentage employed, reducing the unemployment number by a tenth of a point. But these are technical adjustments, not evidence of real growth.
Here are some other, more informative numbers on what is going on in the real economy from this morning’s report: In January the average work week (hours worked per worker) was unchanged, but the manufacturing workweek declined by .2 hours, and factory overtime was down .1 hour. Over the year, average hourly earnings for all private employers (non-farm) rose by 1.9%, or a bit under inflation. These are hardly indicators of an economy that is catching fire. Rather it is a picture of an economy comfortably under full capacity.
So what have we got? — the main motor of the global economy (the US) is sputtering; Europe looks to be stalling out in its recovery; and the central banks are continuing to very slowly ease off the monetary accelerator.
Secular stagnation indeed!