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Five Numbers You Need to Know from March's Jobs Report

What's the state of the job market in March 2012? Let's take a look.


The government's monthly jobs report came out this morning, and the news is...ok. While employment is growing, it's still growing too slowly to budge the unemployment rate much, just about keeping up with the number of new workers entering the workforce. After three months of strong growth, this report is middling, but it's too soon to tell if this is just a weird month or if the labor market's growth is slowing again. Learn the word "econometeorology"—one question economists are debating right now is if a warm winter allowed construction to begin earlier in the year, artificially inflating winter jobs numbers and perhaps deflating the current set.

Here are the five numbers you need to know:


120,000 - The number of new jobs that were created. That's quite a bit less than last month's total of 227,000 and less than the 200,000 many forecasters were predicting, but it still lowered the unemployment rate to 8.2 percent. Of those jobs, 121,000 were created in the private sector, while the public sector shed 1,000 jobs. While those public sector losses have been dragging back overall employment for several years, there's a sign that the bleeding is slowing, and that state and local cuts may be reaching their end.

14.5 percent - Perhaps the best news in the report was the reduction of the U-6 measure of unemployment, from 14.9 to 14.5 percent of the workforce. U-6 measures unemployed people, people who are working part-time but want to work full-time, and people who are discouraged from finding a job. While 14.5 percent is still high, it's the lowest it's been since 2009.

5.3 million - The number of American workers who have been unemployed for six months or longer, about 42 percent of the entire unemployed population. While there are a million fewer people in that category than last year, 5.3 million is still too high. The long-term unemployed have a hard time getting back into the workforce, as their skills and networks atrophy; this will be a sector to watch in the months ahead.

38,000 - That's how many jobs were lost in the retail sector last month, a shedding that had a big effect on the top-line number. Matt Yglesias argues that this is one sign of a structural transition—the termination of much in-store retail employment as more and more people shop online. Even though most of our jobs problems come from a lack of demand, there are also issues of creative destruction as our economy grows in the new century. But who knows—maybe more retail workers are the future, not less.

63.8 percent - That's the civilian labor force participation rate, or what portion of people in the United States are working or trying to work. It went down about a tenth of a percent last month as more people became discouraged with the job market and quit looking for work. The decline on overall workers is one reason why the unemployment rate went down, but that's not how we want to go about lowering it.

Chart courtesy Calculated Risk


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