Free Markets, Free People

Are the recent employment gains real?

Over the last several months, we’ve seen moderate gains in non-farm payroll jobs, with the rate of job creation running at about 200,000 jobs a month. That’s seems good, as does the continuing drop in initial claims for unemployment to around the 350,000 level weekly.

The thing is, how real is this job creation, in an environment where the past year showed a rate of GDP growth of 1.8%, and the most optimistic forecasts for this year indicate a 2.5% rate of GDP growth? Those rates of growth are significantly below the long-term trend rate of growth for the US economy, which is between 3% and 3,5% per year. How is employment increasing when GDP growth is so slow?

Well, the answer is, it may not be.  Take a look at the charts below, They are taken from the historical A tables of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) household survey. This is the survey where households provide employment data.

The first chart shows the number of people in the Household survey who’ve declared themselves to be employed since January of 2002.


That does indeed indicate a moderate rate of employment growth since January of 2010. So far, so good.

The next chart, however, shows those who are employed as a percentage of the civilian, non-institutional, adult population.


This provides a far more negative picture of employment. Essentially, the percentage of the population that is employed has crashed, and the percentage of employed was lower in 2011 than it was in 2010. As a percentage of the adult population, peak employment has declined every year since 2007.

Essentially, a additional 4% of the adult population is now jobless, compared to 2007, and that jobless percentage has been increasing, not decreasing, over the last two years, despite mild declines in the official unemployment rate.

Dale Franks
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6 Responses to Are the recent employment gains real?

  • “… job creation running at about 200,000 jobs a month …”

    Since there are roughly 125,000 to 175,000 new job seeker entering the workforce (i.e. high school and college grads, drop-outs) every month, this 25,000 to 75,000 remaining for the 6,000,000 who are unemployed, underemployed and temporarily out of the work force doesn’t look so big.

  • I was trying to make the same population corrected argument as well. Do you have links to the raw data you used to calculate this data, if you rolled your own?

    I found that the population figures fluctuated from year to year probably due to the fact the census bureau only really makes an attempt at an accurate accounting once every ten years. So I took the 10 year growth from 2000 and 20010 and converted that to a yearly geometric average.