One of the refrains we heard when job numbers started to dip from early-year highs was not to put too much stock in one month’s reports. The White House is still saying that today—on the dismaying news that the economy added only 80,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remained unchanged—but it’s now clear that the spring slump is real and ongoing. The economy needs to add 95,000 jobs each month to keep up with natural population growth and it’s just not doing that. We’re averaging 75,000 new jobs each month in the second quarter, compared to 226,000 in the first.
The key context here is that even when the job numbers were trending upwards, it wasn’t nearly enough. The economic well-being of millions of Americans fell off a steep cliff during the great recession, and the misery continues for most people regardless of these much-watched fluctuations. From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorites, here’s how that looks:
And again, today’s jobs numbers confirm that we can’t even hang our hats on some modest gains. We’ve settled into a very slow growth trend. Here are some data snapshots from today’s numbers:
The public sector added 4,000 jobs, but gains elsewhere masked 14,000 jobs lost in the public education sector.
The manufacturing sector added 11,000 jobs, but has also settled into slower growth—it was averaging 41,000 in the first quarter.
The African-American unemployment rate surged last month, though this was due mainly to more African-Americans looking for work.
Men continue to reap a disproportionate share of the jobs gains, and it’s not just because the manufacturing and construction are doing a bit better. Dean Baker notes that since December of 2009, men have gotten 474,000 retail industry jobs while women have lost 49,000. Of the 192,000 transportation industry jobs, men have gotten 190,000. The finance sector added 123,000 for men, while the number of jobs for women fell by 65,000.
Older workers are also seeing more job gains, with people over 55 getting 169,000 new jobs in June and accounting for 57.9 percent of the overall job growth in the past year.
Both average weekly hours worked and wages bumped upwards, which is welcome news. As Jared Bernstein notes, with continued low inflation and decreased gas prices, paychecks are accumulating more purchasing power.
The politics of jobs data in an election year are unavoidable. As expected, the Obama campaign is counseling restrained optimism, while Romney is bashing the bad report, calling it a “kick in the gut.”
I will only note that while the incentive to bash a bad monthly report is obvious, Romney should be careful. There’s an emerging consensus among analysts that, while the situation is certainly bad, the recent jobs reports may be understating job growth. Dean Baker sees drops or low growth in the health care, construction, educational services, and transit and ground transportation as anomalous. He predicts that a correction could mean job gains of around 150,000 for the second half of the year. If Romney insists on living by monthly drops, he could die by improving gains headed into November.