Five Numbers to Know From This Month’s Jobs Report

Delving into the latest labor market news.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly jobs report today, giving us an update on the state of employment in the United States in December 2011. Here are the numbers you need to know:

200,000. That’s the net increase in jobs in December. Anything above 90,000 is pretty good—that’s how many jobs we need to gain monthly to keep up with population growth—but this increase brought the unemployment rate down to 8.6 percent, the lowest since February 2009. That’s a pretty robust month of growth, but it’s still nowhere near fast enough to get a signficant chunk of the 13 million unemployed Americans back to work. Remember, given our under-used capacity, if the economy was really going gangbusters we could see as many as 400,000 people hired in a month.

2.5 million. The number of people marginally attached to the labor force—that is, those who want to work but have had no luck and have given up their job searches. They aren’t counted as unemployed by government surveyors. If the job market is strengthening—and that appears to be the trend, finally—they could come back to the job market in 2012, temporarily increasing the unemployment rate.

42,000. The number of couriers and messengers hired in December. This is an unusually high number for this sector, suggesting that the boost comes largely from holiday workers hired to help with deliveries. While the Bureau does its best to adjust its numbers season-by-season to avoid these kinds of temporary distortions, this could be artificially pumping up the numbers a bit.

15.2 percent. The “U-6” measure of unemployment, which includes people without jobs, people who are forced to work fewer hours than they otherwise would, and the folks who have given up on job hunting. A more accurate measure of the impact of unemployment on the economy, it has been trending down, dropping more than a percentage point in 2011.

12,000. The number of government jobs lost in December. Over the course of 2011, we’ve seen some 280,000 government workers let go as state and federal budgets got tighter—even as the private sector has posted a net gain of 1.9 million jobs. You may have heard that government bureaucracy is holding back the economy, but it’s for the opposite reason you might expect: By not adding jobs, the public sector is creating a drag on economic growth.

Chart courtesy of Calculated Risk

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