The other side of the coin

Although the national employment numbers from the Current Employment Statistics report are less than stellar (to say the least), the numbers in the Current Population Survey (from which the Unemployment Rate, among other things, is calculated) doesn’t look quite so bad. In fact, it looks downright rosy.

According to it, the BLS is reporting 629,000 more people working in July than in June. This is compared to 32,000 more according to the CES.

Here is my table (including June and July change figures) using CPS numbers:


(Compare to the same table using CES numbers)

Note that June and July are both FAR above average for the past 25 years according to this measure. Part of the difference has to do with the “Net Birth/Death Adjustment” which I don’t really understand but purports to take new and deceased businesses (and the jobs gained or lost) into account in CES numbers. This, to me, seems a pretty arbitrary manipulation of employment numbers, and while implemented with the best intentions, I wonder if it might not do more harm than good. The potential to do, at least, is certainly there.

I don’t really recall when the employment totals number (i.e., “32,000 jobs gained in July”) began to be watched more carefully than the unemployment rate. To be honest, I don’t really recall hearing much about the employment totals until the past few years (i.e., “America lost another 123,000 jobs last month and it’s all Bush’s fault”). All I really remember ever hearing about was the unemployment rate. But maybe I’m wrong.

Something else I noticed while looking through the BLS numbers is that the unemployment rate for July, 5.5%, is identical to the unemployment rate for July of 1996. 5.5% in July seemed good enough for a sitting President back then. As I recall, when unemployment reached 5% or so all we heard about was “full employment” and how the lack of available workers was going to kill the economy.

What’s “ideal”? We need to establish that, agree on it, and THEN look at the current numbers.

UPDATE: I don’t have a clue about “ideal”, but here’s something I cooked up using the BLS numbers for the unemployment rate. It’s an attempt to illustrate where we are today relative to where we were in August during past election years.

  • ‘July’ is July’s unemployment rate according to the BLS.
  • ‘YTD’ is the average monthly unemployment rate during the year so far, calculated by averaging the monthly numbers.
  • ‘Prev 2 Yrs’ is the average unemployment during the previous two years. I chose this so that we could be more certain that the numbers reflected only policies of that administration.
  • ‘Average’ is simply an average of the above three rates.

unemploymentelectionyear.jpgAs you can see, this year is very close to 1996. And Bush weathered virtually all of the recession (not to mention 9/11) whereas a lot of the 1991 recession had run its course by the time Clinton took office.

I’m not saying that this says anything, especially since it’s made up of “averages of averages”, but I think it might help us figure out where we stand today when measured against the past.