This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the U.S. jobs numbers for October.
The official unemployment rate fell to 4.6% in October. That’s down from 4.8% in September and better than the drop to 4.7% expected by economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
The economy created 531,000 jobs in the month. Way ahead of the disappointing 194,000 initially reported for September and again well above the 450,000 expected by economists.
So everything is great in the labor market and the economy, right?
The official jobs and unemployment rate does a lousy job of measuring what is actually going on in the economy. Which leads to things such as our “surprise” that companies are having a hard time filling open job slots.
What we need is a Crappy Jobs Index that captures the nature of jobs in the current gig economy.
We all know that the official unemployment rate doesn’t capture the state of the real economy. Which is why the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes an alternative measure of unemployment called the U-6 unemployment rate.
The U-6 rate captures “persons marginally attached to the labor force.” Which, I’d argue amounts to an increasingly large number of “workers” these days. The U-6 unemployment rate includes persons are “who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule.”
The U-6 unemployment rate for October 2021 was 8.3%. Close to double the official unemployment rate. The good news is that the U-6 rate in October 2021 at 8.3% is much lower than back in October 2020 when it stood at 12.1%.
But the U-6 rate still doesn’t measure the problems in the labor market–in workers’ lives–that explain why so many workers are reluctant to take so many open jobs.
It doesn’t capture the number of jobs at a minimum starting wage of $12 or $13 an hour don’t pay enough to support a worker and his/her family without reliance on food stamps or Medicaid. A 2020 Government Accountability Office study found that 70% of federal aid benefits (such as food stamps and Medicaid) went to workers with full time jobs.
It doesn’t capture the number of jobs where employers intentionally “manage” workers’ weekly hours so that they stay below the 36 or 38 or 40 hour threshold for qualifying for full company benefits, such as health insurance.
It doesn’t capture the number of jobs where work schedules are announced with so little advanced warning and shift so arbitrarily that someone who needs to work a second job to make ends meet can’t–because they can’t commit to a schedule at a second job.
It doesn’t capture the number of “independent contractors” with full time jobs who don’t make a living wage even though they work way more than 40 hours- because fees and charges that are a condition of work savage actual take home pay.
As part of today’s official report the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the labor participation rate in October was 61.6%. That’s essentially unchanged since the 61.1% rate of February 2020.
Given what we know about the nature of work at so many jobs in this economy, we ought to be surprised not that the labor participation rate is stuck at a historically low level but that it’s so high.
P.S. The other bad news in this mornings jobs report is that “The jobless rates for adult women (4.4 percent), teenagers (11.9 percent), Whites (4.0 percent), Blacks (7.9 percent), Asians (4.2 percent), and Hispanics (5.9 percent) showed little or no change over the month.”
As of 10:30 a.m. New York time the Standard & Poor’s 500 was up 0.70% to a new record and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was higher by 0.85%. The NASDAQ Composite had climbed 0.56% and the small cap Russell 2000 was 1.32%.