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Why the Jobs Report Isn’t All Good | The Nation

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George Zornick

George Zornick

Action and dysfunction in the Beltway swamp. E-mail tips to george@thenation.com

Why the Jobs Report Isn’t All Good

Job fair

Job seekers wait in line at a construction job fair in New York in 2012. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Labor Department released two job surveys Friday morning, and one of them has unambiguously good news: the monthly survey of businesses said the economy added 288,000 jobs in April, beating expectations by a considerable margin and representing one of the highest monthly totals since the 2008 crash. Steve Benen has the chart:

That’s reason to celebrate, and many people—particularly Democratic partisans with an eye on the midterm elections—are doing just that. But the household survey, also released Friday morning, painted a grim picture. It showed the economy actually lost 73,000 jobs. How can one survey say the economy added jobs, while another said jobs were lost? Well, because one of them is wrong, as David Leonhardt notes. They can’t both be true.

Since the household survey has a smaller sample, it’s tempting to give it less weight. But really, one should not draw any firm conclusions until all the data is marching to the same beat—and over a period of months, not in one single snapshot. “The weak household survey hugely dampens the enthusiasm of the strong payroll numbers,” said Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute. “We can’t be confident that the economy is entering a new stage of stronger job growth until both surveys are regularly posting strong gains, and that did not happen in April.”

And disturbing fundamentals still abound. The employment rate’s substantial drop from 6.7 percent in March to 6.3 percent in April was due entirely to people leaving the work force, according to the household survey. The overall labor force participation rate fell to its lowest point of the recovery.

While quite a bit of these “missing workers” are baby boomers who retired, about half are of prime working age. In other words, these are people who simply stopped looking for work. The Economic Policy Institute has been tracking who, exactly, these missing workers are:

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If those people were still looking for work, the unemployment rate would be a staggering 9.9 percent. Again, some of those missing workers are rightfully retired, but millions are not. That people are giving up hope in large enough numbers to drive down the “official” unemployment rate isn’t good news. The economic outlook, simply put, remains cloudy at best and dark at worst.

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