Great February Jobs Report! (Just don’t look too deep into the details.)

March 8, 2013

As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) this morning, the economy added 236,000 jobs in February.  That’s way more than experts were expecting and will, no doubt, send the stock market soaring today.  That’s the figure from the “establishment survey” half of the report.  The other half of the report – the household survey – the survey used to calculated the unemployment rate – also has great headline news:  the unemployment rate fell two tenths to 7.7%.  If that makes you feel good (as it should), then don’t delve into the details.  I wouldn’t want it to spoil your day. 

The BLS’s “employment situation summary” (link provided above) begins with the household survey.  You’ll immediately notice how often the word “unchanged” appears in the summary:

  • the unemployment rate:  “has shown little movement, on net, since September 2012.”
  • The unemployment rate for whites declined.  All other racial groups?  “Little or no change.”
  • Long term unemployed?  “Unchanged.”
  • Employment-population ratio?  Unchanged.
  • Labor force participation rate?  “Changed little.”
  • Number of persons employed part-time for economic reasons?  “Unchanged.”
  • Persons marginally attached to the labor force?  “same as a year earlier.”
  • Discouraged workers?  “Down slightly from a year earlier.”

Regarding the employment-population ratio, per capita employment rose for the first time in four months, but by only the thinnest of margins – 0.03% – and remains lower than it was five months ago. 

The drop in the unemployment rate was once again aided by a drop of 130,000 in the labor force in spite of the fact that the population grew by 170,000.  (Not a single one of them needs a job for a source of income?) 

Even the headline figure of 236,000 jobs is questionable when you realize that the anemic January figure of 157,000 jobs was revised downward sharply to 119,000.  Can we expect the same next month? 

It’s also worth noting that the 236,000 jobs added in February is 35,000 less than last February. 

Construction added 48,000 jobs in February.  The Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program (pouring a half trillion dollars per year into mortgage-backed securities) is evidently beginning to have the desired effect. 

* * * * *

The additional 236,000 jobs added in February break down as follows:

  • Professional & business services:  + 73,000
  • Construction:  + 48,000
  • Healthcare:  + 39,000
  • Leisure & hospitality:  + 24,000
  • Retail trade:  + 24,000
  • Information:  + 20,000
  • Manufacturing:  + 14,000
  • Mining:  + 5,000
  • Government:  – 10,000

End Traffic Congestion

January 6, 2009

It seems that even economists aren’t all that enamored with some of the consequences of growth.  In this linked editorial, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former Labor Department chief economist, bemoans traffic congestion and suggests that new GPS technology be employed to tax drivers for miles driven and routes taken in an effort to cut down traffic in congested areas. 

A couple of observations are in order.  First of all, the surest method to prevent traffic congestion from becoming worse is to stop putting more drivers on the road.  That means a plan to stabilize the population.  It’ll stabilize eventually anyway, either through a lower birth rate or a higher death rate, so why not do it now before congestion becomes worse?  Building more roads and more lanes won’t help.  Take it from someone who pre-dates the interstate highway system, more roads and lanes only enable more population growth and they fill with more traffic volume faster than they can be built.  Stabilizing the population is the only sure way to stop the congestion problem from getting worse.

Secondly, while schemes like that proposed by Ms. Furchtgott-Roth will certainly be necessary if the population isn’t stabilized, it will ultimately lead to a decline in per capita consumption of vehicles, accompanied by a decline in per capita consumption of everything associated with operating and maintaining those vehicles.  That means a decline in per capita employment in those industries.  You may be inclined to think that those displaced workers will simply find employment in other industries.  Think again.  As a society becomes more and more densely populated, the per capita consumption of virtually everything, with the exception of food and clothing, declines as well.  The end result is rising unemployment and poverty. 

We would be better served if economists spent time stuck in traffic pondering the ultimate consequences of their pro-growth agenda instead of looking no further than the bumper in front of them to imagine technological band-aids to keep their theories patched together.