Three Takeaways from the September Jobs Report

Today the Bureau of Labor and Statistics released the September Jobs Report, which saw the unemployment rate drop to 7.8%. Like all of our previous Monthly Jobs Report analyses, we take a closer look at the data beyond the unemployment rate. Below are this month’s takeaways:

1.      All of the metrics show modest improvement

Looking at all of the data points we’ve looked at for past analyses, modest gains have been made across the board. The total number of unemployed persons has gone down, as has the number of people who have left the workforce due to economic reasons. Likewise the total number of people employed has gone up, as has the total civilian labor force. This means that people are not merely shifting out of the workforce, thus improving the other data points.

2.      Workforce Participation Rate increased by .1% to 63.6%

Though an improvement over the record low set in August, this key rate has been skipping along the bottom for the better part of this year. Rates have ranged between 63.9% and 63.5%. In comparison, at its height before the recession began, it was 66.2%.

If this rate begins to climb in a meaningful, and more importantly a sustained way, it is a sign that the public believes that there are jobs available and will rejoin the workforce. Given the length of the recession, millions have dropped out of the labor force and a jobs recovery without bringing them back in would be a hollow one.

3.      Both sides will try to spin this:

This close to an election, these numbers will inevitably be spun by both parties and below details how each side is wrong:

The Democrats: They will try to hail this as a monumental improvement, particularly in that the rate has dropped below the politically important 8.0% threshold. Granted gains have been made in key areas, but they are minor ones at that. Likewise, one marginally good Jobs Report does not a trend make. While it is true that it has dropped below 8%, it is critical to remember that the size of the Civilian Labor Force, used to calculate the rate, is at historical lows. This drop is not due to the baby boomers retiring, but rather people leaving the workforce entirely. If you were to include those in the unemployment rate, taking into account historical baselines, the unemployment rate would be 9.0%.

The Republicans: A number of individuals have already come out and said that they are convinced that ‘the books have been cooked’ or something to that effect. There is nothing in the data that seems to suggest any manipulation of the numbers for political gain. However, given the fact that the report indicates 873,000 jobs being added, while the payroll survey indicated 114,000 does raise eyebrows. The last time the economy added that many jobs was in 1983, when GDP was growing at 9.3%, versus the 1.3% we are seeing now. In addition, several economists have suggested that it was the result of an improbable statistical quirk. Payroll data aside, the rest of data does show marginal improvements in key areas, so this report is indeed good news, albeit marginally so.