Tough Questions About the April 2010 Jobs Report

Troubling inconsistencies in seemingly good news

The Labor Department's monthly jobs report shows that the economy added 290,000 jobs in April. Only 66,000 of those were temporary Census jobs, another 26,000 were jobs through temp services. If the statistics are to be believed, (another story altogether) it was an impressive month with a gain of 202,000 "permanent" jobs.

The brightest spot in the report was in the manufacturing sector which added 44,000 new jobs. This is one trend that should continue for the long term as the dollar weakens. (The dollar has gained strength recently because of the problems in Europe, but the longer trend is definitely still downward.)

Construction added 14,000 jobs by some miracle.

Retail, again as if by divine Providence, added around 12,000 jobs. This seems odd considering the continuing bloodbath in the retail sector. It also seems odd because when you go shopping nowadays, it can be well nigh impossible to find a clerk to help you. (Pardon the digression.)

Hospitality added 45,000 jobs. This shows that businesses are sending their people on the road which is a good sign.

Professional and business services added 80,000 jobs. This could be considered a good sign for the same reason as the hospitality uptick: it shows that business activity is picking up.

What about the unemployment rate?

The rise in the unemployment rate might actually be good news because it is attributed to more people entering the labor force. What that means is that more people are actively looking for work. (Those not looking for a job and not working are "discouraged workers" and not counted in the unemployment statistics.)

The continued rise in long-term unemployment shows the severity of the economic climate when you take the "view from 30,000 feet" on it. Those unable to find work for long periods of time find it harder to find work so this problem feeds itself. Additionally, it reveals something about the quality of the jobs being added. Someone accustomed to making a decent living will not be applying for low-paying retail or hospitality jobs, holding out for something better.

Make no mistake, these are times that once would have been called a "depression." Job fair lines extending for blocks are the new soup lines. Decrepit properties falling into ruin are the new Dust Bowl.

Now for the tough questions on this report:

How many of these jobs were part-time, low-wage, non-union, non-benefit positions? Retail and hospitality are two areas where it is a good bet the jobs added were of low quality.

Where is the public sector data? The report covers federal employment, but what about state and municipal employment? Many states and cities cut many jobs. Where is that data reflected in this report?

How could employment in transportation and warehousing fall as employment in manufacturing and retail supposedly rose? Transportation and warehousing lost 20,000 jobs as retail and manufacturing added jobs. This makes no sense whatsoever. Things being manufactured need to be shipped and stored in distribution centers. This number raises a huge red flag about the veracity of the statistics.

Let's just hope they are correct somehow, despite the seeming physical impossibility raised by the last question.

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