Friday, December 2, 2011

Employment Rate: Behind the Numbers

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard that the Obama administration received excellent news today. The unemployment rate fell by .4% to 8.6% for the month of November. Since the unemployment number has been the only barometer used politically to measure the success or failure of government assistance, it’s safe to say that this is pleasant news for Obama – not so much for the Republican candidates. While 8.6% isn’t great, it’s definitely better than the alternative.

We had some back and forth within the TUP staff and that got me to thinking… what is behind the numbers… So I did some digging, and this is what I found (not meant to be a complete evaluation of the economic situation, just some highlights from November):

Currently, about 13.3 million people in our country remain unemployed. The country added 120,000 jobs total in November: the private sector added 140,000 jobs while the government sector lost 20,000 jobs (lead by a 5,000-employee decrease by the Postal Service). The private sector made gains in retail (clothing and clothing accessories and electronics), leisure and hospitality, and restaurants and bars. This may be a good sign if it signifies an increase in discretionary income.

The caveat is that the labor force participation rate (the number of working age persons who are either employed, or unemployed but looking) dropped by .2% to 64.0%. A drop of over 300,000 people in the labor force aided this rate drop. This drop contributed to the decline of 574, 000 in unemployment. The unemployment rate doesn’t include those who aren’t actively looking for employment. This can include, but not limited to, folks who have given up hope of finding a job; folks who have decide to go back to school, or retire; or folks who stop looking for jobs to tend to family members. In November, just over 300,000 people stopped looking for jobs and were not counted in the employment figure.

While more jobs were added during November, people aren’t making more money. The average hourly pay dropped by 2 cents to $23.18. This does, however, follow a 7-cent increase in the month of October. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 1.8%. Side note: For comparison, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for November won’t be released until December 16.

White men made the largest gains in November. The unemployment rate fell by .05% for men and it dropped to 7.6% for White people. Women (7.8), Hispanics (11.4%), Blacks (15.5%), and teenagers (23.7) showed very little or no change in their unemployment numbers.

While the improvement is a good thing, the ultimate test is sustainability. We won’t truly know if the economy is improving until we’ve see the unemployment numbers decrease over time. Still, the improvement is notable for the county. Not so much for the Black community where the gap is growing between the unemployment rate for the nation and the unemployment rate for the Black community – I guess we’re still waiting for the rising tide…

Just an FYI

[Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]
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