January Jobs Up 200K, Unemployment Steady 4th Month, Workweek Falls

Nonfarm payrolls rose by 200K in January beating the consensus of 175K. Unemployment held at 4.1% for the 4th month.

Initial Reaction

Today’s establishment survey shows jobs rose by 200,000 topping the consensus estimate of 175,000. The household survey (Table A) shows the baseline unemployment rate was steady at 4.1% for the fourth consecutive month.

U-6 unemployment, which counts involuntary part-time jobs, rose for the second consecutive month. The workweek declined. Year-over-year wages were only up 2.4%. Those were the negatives in the report.

Let’s dive into the details in the BLS Employment Situation Summary, unofficially called the Jobs Report.

BLS Jobs Statistics at a Glance

  • Nonfarm Payroll: +200,000 – Establishment Survey
  • Employment: +409,000 – Household Survey
  • Unemployment: +108,000 – Household Survey
  • Involuntary Part-Time Work: +74,000 – Household Survey
  • Voluntary Part-Time Work: -745,000 – Household Survey
  • Baseline Unemployment Rate: flat at 4.1% – Household Survey
  • U-6 unemployment: +0.1 to 8.2% – Household Survey
  • Civilian Noninstitutional Population: +671,000
  • Civilian Labor Force: +518,000 – Household Survey
  • Not in Labor Force: +153,000 – Household Survey
  • Participation Rate: flat at 62.7 – Household Survey

Employment Report Statement

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 200,000 in January, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.1 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment continued to trend up in construction, food services and drinking places, health care, and manufacturing.


Unemployment Rate – Seasonally Adjusted

The above Unemployment Rate Chart is from the BLS. Click on the link for an interactive chart.

Nonfarm Job Change from Previous Month

The above chart and the following chart from the BLS show establishment survey jobs, not household survey employment.

Nonfarm Jobs Change from Previous Month by Job Type

Hours and Wages

The Average Weekly Hours of all private employees declined by 0.2 hours to 34.3 hours. The average weekly hours of all private service-providing employees declined by by 0.1 hours to 33.3 hours. Average weekly hours of manufacturers was declined by 0.2 hour to 40.6 hours.

The Average Hourly Earnings of private workers rose $0.03 to $22.34. Average hourly earnings of private service-providing employees rose $0.03 to to $22.08. Average hourly earnings of manufacturers rose $0.09 at $21.31.

I calculate year-over-year hourly earnings as up 2.4%. Econoday says 2.9%. Here's the chart from the BLS.

I do not know where Econoday got 2.9% from. I calculate (22.34-21.81)/21.81 = 0.0243

Birth Death Model

Starting January 2014, I dropped the Birth/Death Model charts from this report. For those who follow the numbers, I retain this caution: Do not subtract the reported Birth-Death number from the reported headline number. That approach is statistically invalid. Should anything interesting arise in the Birth/Death numbers, I will comment further.

Table 15 BLS Alternate Measures of Unemployment

Table A-15 is where one can find a better approximation of what the unemployment rate really is.

Notice I said “better” approximation not to be confused with “good” approximation.

The official unemployment rate is 4.1%. However, if you start counting all the people who want a job but gave up, all the people with part-time jobs that want a full-time job, all the people who dropped off the unemployment rolls because their unemployment benefits ran out, etc., you get a closer picture of what the unemployment rate is. That number is in the last row labeled U-6.

U-6 is much higher at 8.2%. Both numbers would be way higher still, were it not for millions dropping out of the labor force over the past few years.

Some of those dropping out of the labor force retired because they wanted to retire. The rest is disability fraud, forced retirement, discouraged workers, and kids moving back home because they cannot find a job.

Strength is Relative

It’s important to put the jobs numbers into proper perspective.

  1. In the household survey, if you work as little as 1 hour a week, even selling trinkets on eBay, you are considered employed.
  2. In the household survey, if you work three part-time jobs, 12 hours each, the BLS considers you a full-time employee.
  3. In the payroll survey, three part-time jobs count as three jobs. The BLS attempts to factor this in, but they do not weed out duplicate Social Security numbers. The potential for double-counting jobs in the payroll survey is large.

Household Survey vs. Payroll Survey

The payroll survey (sometimes called the establishment survey) is the headline jobs number, generally released the first Friday of every month. It is based on employer reporting.

The household survey is a phone survey conducted by the BLS. It measures unemployment and many other factors.

If you work one hour, you are employed. If you don’t have a job and fail to look for one, you are not considered unemployed, rather, you drop out of the labor force.

Looking for jobs on Monster does not count as “looking for a job”. You need an actual interview or send out a resume.

These distortions artificially lower the unemployment rate, artificially boost full-time employment, and artificially increase the payroll jobs report every month.

Final Thoughts

The primary negatives in the report were the workweek which spilled over into the U-6 unemployment rate and wage growth. Given minimum wage hikes in 18 states, I expected wage growth to do a bit better. Year-over-year wages are only up 2.4%

Weak wage growth has not kept up with inflation, despite the BLS purporting otherwise.


Bloomberg offers this wage explanation:

There were two things to consider when looking at the figure. For starters, the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes two main series on average hourly earnings -- one for all private-sector nonfarm employees, and the other for only production and nonsupervisory workers. The former registered a big acceleration in wages, while the latter didn’t. Second, average weekly hours worked for all employees slumped, which could have artificially boosted the hourly earnings figure for that series.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

We get a simultaneous homeless bubble and housing bubble, the exact same way we get overpriced, poor quality and short supply of heroin: Government barring the free market from responding to too high prices for too shoddy goods; by building more and better until the market clears.

But just as the drug war has an army of well paid, and well connected, apparatchiks and drug dealers benefitting from the bans, so does the housing rackets. And, in dystopias such as ours, as long as self promoting middlebrow incompetents can make money and gain influence from a government sponsored racket, who cares if people die in the streets as a side effect?

In free societies, you simply don’t have shortages of providable goods for long. It’s literally economically impossible. But in totalitarian hellholes, shortages of everything from houses to drugs to food can, and do, persist. They, in fact, tend to get worse over time. All on account of government doing the only thing any government ever can do: At gunpoint ban people from simply routing around, instead of paying rent and tribute to, the undifferentiated gaggle of incompetent back markers, that comprise all of government, and all of its supporting ruling classes.

Econoday must be using the seasonally adjusted year over year increase in average hourly earnings of total private, which is 2.9%. Not seasonally adjusted that metric is up only 2.2%. You indicated 2.4%, but that is the seasonally adjusted y/y growth for production and nonsupervisory only, not total private. Not seasonally adjusted your 2.4% was barely 2%. I'll take the under closer to 2% as indicative of the experience of most working people.

One of the big issues we need to address is the low labor force participation rate, which is still at its lowest levels since the 1970s. What are some ways we can remove barriers to entering the workforce, especially for America's working class? We want to hear your thoughts on the subject.