Concentrate and Ask Again

Good news, bad news in the latest jobs report. Let’s start with the good;

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 244,000 in April, and the unemployment rate edged up to 9.0 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job gains occurred in several service-providing industries, manufacturing, and mining.

The number of unemployed persons, at 13.7 million, changed little in April. The unemployment rate edged up from 8.8 to 9.0 percent over the month but was 0.8 percentage point lower than in November. The labor force also was little changed in April.

It would appear that the unemployment rate edged up, because some of the “discourage” unemployed are looking for work again. So the pool of available labor increased slightly faster than the employment rolls. That’s a good thing. It’s also difficult to complain too much about any month with almost a quarter million new jobs, even if that’s not enough to reduce the official unemployment number.

The overall employment picture is one of stasis, and that’s just not good enough to shrink government welfare and unemployment spending, or to increase the tax base to help close the deficit. Tax receipts are increasing, which might be a good indicator of the overall economy being on solid footing, but there are still deeper problems.

Here’s more from the BLS report:

The number of persons unemployed for less than 5 weeks increased by 242,000 in April. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) declined by 283,000 to 5.8 million; their share of unemployment declined to 43.4 percent. (See table A-12.)

The civilian labor force participation rate was 64.2 percent for the fourth consecutive month. The employment-population ratio, at 58.4 percent, changed little in April. (See table A-1.)

What I glean from this is that young workers are entering the labor force (and medium-term unemployed are re-entering) at about the same rate that the long-term unemployed are getting “discouraged” and dropping off the rolls altogether. Their skills have eroded, their prospects are weaker than anyone else’s, and there’s a good chance that we’ll now have a permanent class of middle age men (they are mostly men) who might never again find meaningful work.

By meaningful work, I mean this:

Employment in leisure and hospitality continued to increase in April (+46,000). Over the past 3 months, this industry added 151,000 jobs, with nearly two-thirds of the growth in food services and drinking places.

In other words, McDonald’s and Hooters and the like represent a sizable fraction of our recent job growth. That’s fine news for kids looking for their first job, but not exactly terrific for a man of 50 with two kids and an underwater mortgage.

I’m not sure what we can do to help these folks, but I’m pretty sure inflating away whatever savings they might have left while saddling them with trillions in new debt ain’t it.