"THERE ARE NO SECRETS IN LIFE, JUST HIDDEN TRUTHS THAT LIE BENEATH THE SURFACE." From the Showtime TV hit, "Dexter". The highly anticipated Jobs Report arrived last Friday morning, showing 85,000 jobs lost during December...and while this was a bit worse than expected, the report also carried some good news, in that the prior month's revisions showed that November actually had a final tabulation of job gains for the month, for the first time since December 2007. Additionally, the Unemployment Rate remained stable at 10%. While this all seems to indicate some level of improvement in the labor market - you do have to look beneath the surface to clearly understand the present realities for the labor market.
Let's start with the headline number of 85,000 jobs lost. This comes from what is called the "business survey", which uses many estimation tools, including the birth-death ratio of businesses, i.e. how many businesses were created or closed. The mechanics in coming up with the business survey allow the information to be gathered rapidly, but it also makes the information far less than accurate. On the other hand, there is also a "household survey", where a sampling of households receive actual phone calls. Although the household number is not used by the Labor Department for their headline numbers of job losses or creations, some deem it to be a bit more accurate. The household survey paints a bit of a darker - but perhaps more realistic - picture, showing a whopping 589,000 jobs lost. But let's dig deeper still.
The Labor Department does use the household survey to calculate the Unemployment Rate - and remember, it stayed stable at 10% - but the calculation is determined by how many people are presently in the workforce. And the household survey indicated that last month, 661,000 people left the workforce.
Whoa - what does "leaving the workforce" mean? And where exactly are they going? Let's take a closer look to understand.
The Labor Department's definition of this is a "discouraged worker", who has not looked for a job during the past four weeks. Based on this definition, there are a few contributing factors that would help us understand why this would indicate such a large number of people "exiting the workforce." And remember, more people exiting the workforce means less people counted as unemployed, and this number alone last month would have contributed to almost a half percent increase in the rate of unemployment from 10% to almost 10.5%.
So let's talk about these contributing factors. First, frigid temperatures and piles of snow during December played a role in keeping job seekers home. Add to that the holiday season, as well as travel for family gatherings and vacations during this time, also contributing to pushing off the job search. And perhaps most importantly playing a role are the extended unemployment benefits - up to 99 weeks worth - which could also play into the decision to not seek work. Put this all together, and it might clarify the large so-called exodus from the workforce, which masks the true Unemployment Rate.
Overall - the job picture is still weak, at best. Census hiring in the next few months - although temporary - should boost job creations, which in turn may lead to upside Job Report surprises. This could lead to some tough days ahead for Bonds and home loan rates - count on me to be watching closely, and standing by to advise.
Chart: 2009 Job Gains or Losses (In the Thousands)
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