Current Employment Data

Current  Employment Commentary:

Employment-2000-2015JanThe U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released its “preliminary estimates” for the employment situation for the month of February 2015. The numbers are considered “preliminary” for two more months to adjust for late arriving data and may be adjusted outside these guidelines once again in January. See BLS Changes Employment Numbers  for the details.

The number of jobs reported for February 2015 was 139.566 million. That was down -1.918 million from December but up 903,000 from January.

Annual Fudging:

Employment for December 2014 was 141.256 million now it is magically 141.483

Once again the BLS has adjusted the previous “unadjusted” employment numbers adding another 227,000 jobs . This time the adjustment “only” went back to April 2013. The 2014 adjustment added 513,000 phantom jobs going all the way back to 1979 and the 2013 adjustment added another 738,000 phantom jobs and went back to 1991.

However, if we subtract the 227,000  that are now automatically added in… plus the 513,000 from last year and if we subtract the 738,000 phantom jobs that are carried over from 2013… we are near the peak 2007 levels unless we adjust for the increase in population then the economy is nowhere near 2007 levels.

On the Chart below we can see how the various sets of numbers compare. In addition to the fudging issue there is the fact that since November 2007 the “Civilian Non-Institutional Population” has increased by roughly 17.9 million so assuming half of the population is looking for jobs we would need 9 million more jobs just to be at the same level we were in 2007. According to the revised February 2015 numbers there are  about 400,000 more jobs than in November 2007 so we are still about 9 million jobs short of breaking even. According to the BLS the labor force participation rate is 62.8 percent and the employment-population ratio is 59.3 percent.

Backing in to the Unemployment Rate Based on 2007 data:

If we look at the numbers from a different angle we can get a better picture.

We need at least 9 million more jobs just to break even:

Workforce = 249.899 million x 50% = 124.95 million

Additional unemployed = 9 million ÷ 124.5 million= 7.2%

The unemployment rate in 2007 was 4.4%

So the current Unemployment rate should be at least 4.4%+7.2%=11.6% unless the additional population is “working off the books”.

Employment February 2015

Click Chart for larger view


Historical Background:

Employment peaked in November 2007 at around 139 million and then fell to 136 million bounced above 138 million before falling below 128 million in January 2010. By December 2012 the number of people employed reached between 135 and 136 million depending on which BLS numbers you believe. A year later, December 2013, the BLS was saying the employment was above 138 million and by December 2014 the official numbers had topped 141 million.

From the chart, we can see that employment in November 2013 was nearing levels reached in November 2007 when employment peaked at just over 139 million jobs. But then it fell sharply as it seems to do every January (which is why they “seasonally adjust the numbers”). Once again we need to note that the total U.S. population (not just the “civilian non-institutional population) has increased from about 305 million to about 320 million since 2007. With about 50% of the population in the job market that would mean that about 7.5 million more people are looking for jobs while there are actually still a couple of million fewer jobs available in January 2015 than in November 2007.

BLS Changes Employment Numbers

Note:In January 2015 the “non-adjusted” numbers once again suffered their massive annual adjustment where the BLS goes looking for some “unreported” jobs and theoretically they found roughly 227,000 jobs this time.

In January 2014 they found roughly 513,000 jobs. And even though they say they only go back three months with their regular adjustment, their annual adjustment can go back years. This time they went back and created more jobs out of thin air going all the way back to 1978. Just like with the “Ministry of Truth” in George Orwell’s Classic book “1984” it becomes increasingly difficult to determine where employment really stands and to track any trends, if the “yardstick” for measurement is constantly changing.

According to the BLS, “On an annual basis, the establishment survey incorporates a benchmark revision that re-anchors estimates to nearly complete employment counts available from unemployment insurance tax records. The benchmark helps to control for sampling and modeling errors in the estimates. For more information on the annual benchmark revision, please visit”  But that doesn’t explain why they would change data going back several years.

They said the “benchmarking” for January 2014 only went back as far as January 2009 but in actuality they changed the numbers all the way back to January 1978 — 21 years further than they reported!

For 2015 they only changed the numbers as far back as April 2013 and added 227,000 jobs.

The newest change is on top of the change they made in January 2014, which added 513,000 jobs where the BLS changed the employment numbers back to July of 1991. At that time, I contacted the Bureau of Labor Statistics and they curtly pointed me to a short hidden blurb on their website that supposedly explains why they did it.  See BLS Changes Employment Numbers for our full discussion of this (pseudo) BLS explanation. Their justification was that they hadn’t properly counted all the “Property and Casualty insurers”. And somehow Property and Casualty insurers increased the total number of jobs by 104,000 in August 2010 and by 738,000 in December 2012. Boy there must have been a lot of Property and Casualty insurers hired during that couple of years of recession!

You can see the difference between the old numbers and the new numbers on the above chart.


Note: The Employment rate and the Unemployment rate are based on two entirely different surveys but theoretically they should be two sides of the same coin. If you look at the chart above it does look like the employment rate is climbing i.e. more people are getting jobs as the trend channel does seem to be up.

By looking at the employment rate we will know how many jobs there are in our economy, pure and simple. (As Detective Joe Friday in Dragnet would say, “Just the facts Ma’am”). Are there more jobs than last year? Good! Are there fewer jobs than last year? Not good. Simple as that! But things have gotten a bit more complex with the implementation of Obamacare. It has inadvertently created incentives for companies to switch from full time employees to part-time employees thus two people may be considered employed where there used to be only one… except there is no additional work being done… but the numbers look better.

We need to consider the population factor. If the number of jobs stays the same but the population increases drastically then the unemployment rate will rise even though the number of jobs stayed the same. So looking at the unemployment rate is also important. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t give us the full picture. If the U.S. population is growing (and it is) but the number of jobs only holds steady the number of people without jobs will increase. So in order for the real unemployment rate to stay the same the number of jobs has to increase by at least the same rate as the population. If the number of jobs increases at anything less than the rate at which the population is increasing, the unemployment rate will be increasing.

Gallup polls look at the “P2P Rate” or Payroll to Population and has found that the number is surprisingly level from July 2011 to July 2012 to July 2013 at 44.9%, 45% and 44.7% respectively and in December 2013 the P2P was 42.9% worse than the preceding years (higher is better). The P2P looks only at those working over 30 hours a week. So, in other words, when taking population increases and full-time employment into consideration, the P2P says that the employment situation has not improved no matter what the official Unemployment rate says.

To determine the employment rate the U.S. government surveys 390,000 businesses nationwide every month. The raw number is what we use here and it is not  seasonally adjusted. You would think this number would be considerably more reliable than the 60,000 households that they survey to obtain the unemployment rate. And I prefer it to any seasonally adjusted numbers. This survey is submitted by the businesses monthly based on company employment on the 12th of the month but for some reason the first release is considered preliminary to allow for late arrivals and it often changes significantly in later months (when the public is no longer watching). For instance the October 2012 number originally said  134,792,000 (prior to the election) but then fell 90,000  to 134,702,000 just after the election. So rather than more jobs appearing due to late arrivals they somehow overestimated the number of jobs by 90,000. But of course unlike the IRS, the BLS couldn’t possibly be politically influenced, right?

See Current Unemployment Rate for an explanation of how the government calculates the official Unemployment rate.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics- Current Employment Rate Data

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  1. Jim Thykeson says:

    What is the rate of taxes with drawn from wages that go to S/S and Medicare?


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