How the jobless report has turned ho-hum

For much of last year the first Friday morning of each month - 5:30 a.m., to be exact - was the unlikely source of high drama. At precisely that time the Bureau of Labor Statistics would release its eagerly awaited monthly employment report. Those were heated campaign days, when the payroll and household numbers would be contorted by the political campaigns to show either that a) the economy was barely alive, done in by four years of misguided policies; or b) the recovery was slowly taking hold. So voters choose B over A and President Obama is back for another four years. And what of the employment figures? Well, they're getting a lot less attention - and rightfully so. A single government report is only a snapshot - a fuzzy one at that. January's results more or less confirm what we've been seeing for many months: An economy that is getting better, gradually. The nation added 157,000 payroll jobs, a respectable if unspectacular showing, and the unemployment rate, which is based on a separate survey, inched up to 7.9 percent. What really stood out, however, is that the government paper-pushers discovered a whole lot of jobs in 2012 that hadn't been counted. Must have been left on somebody's spreadsheet. We're talking 335,000 of them, including another 41,000 in December. November's upward revision was even higher - from 161,000 to 247,000. Turned out that the blabbermouths were spouting off about what amounted to inaccurate data. That alone should tell you something about jumping to conclusions over a single government report. From Real Time Economics:

The significance of the revisions goes beyond their sheer size: The Labor Department's initial estimates often lag behind shifts in the job market, showing too little growth when hiring is speeding up and too much when it is slowing down. So today's revisions could be a sign that the labor market is gaining steam. For most of last year, it looked like the economy was adding around 150,000 jobs per month. Turns out, job growth actually averaged a more robust 181,000 jobs per month for the year. The revised figure reflects not just the November and December revisions but also the government's annual "benchmark" revisions, which added 422,000 jobs in the year that ended last March. With the revisions, 2012 now stands as the best year of the recovery in terms of job growth, ever so slightly better than 2011, when the economy added an average of 175,000 jobs per month.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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