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Mar 8 2013   2:39PM GMT

February Employment: A Last Hurrah Before the Sequester Hits?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

As I was listening to NPR this morning, I heard economists and employment experts forecast the February numbers in a range from 150,000 to 170,000 jobs added. The overall consensus was that total employment would either remain unchanged at 7.9 percent, or that it might conceivably edge down to 7.8 percent. But when I cracked open the latest Employment Situation Summary from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning, I learned instead that 236,000 jobs were added in February, and unemployment decreased to 7.7 percent instead. Here’s a precis:

Lookit them numbers!

Lookit them numbers!

Of course, those same economists who forecast the numbers about 28-36 percent below their actual mark are also concerned — and quite rightly so — about the impending impact of sequestration on employment numbers. Their consensus appears to be that some 750,000 jobs will be lost, and I heard more than one expert opine this morning that this could result in a dip of about 70,000 jobs per month on overall job growth numbers.

This is a serious concern, but if there’s any kind of silver lining in today’s numbers, it’s that deducting 75,000 from 236,000 (which results in 161,000 monthy job growth) hurts a lot less than deducting the same number from the 150,000 to 170,000 that had been the consensus forecast for upcoming monthly job growth for the foreseeable future. Prognostication is always a risky business, though: a look at the right-hand bar chart above shows that monthly employment numbers have been swinging through a wide range of late. Just last month, gains fell in the 110,000-120,000 range, where last November, they almost hit 250,000. That’s a case where one month nearly doubles another month, which speaks to wide variance in employment numbers from month to month. This makes solid, believable forecasts a little harder to achieve!

But for once, it’s nice to see reality (or at least, statistical reality as reported by the BLS) outstrip anticipation, and by a pretty wide margin. When further surprises arrive in the months ahead, let’s hope that they’re all equally positive. And on the IT front, Table A-14 also shows a very nice swing to unemployment for our sector: where IT had an unemployment rate of 8.4 percent in February 2012, one year later that number dropped to a fairly healthy 5.2 percent (anything in the range of 5-6 percent is regarded by most economists as “full employment”). The overall numbers also look pretty good: 247,000 unemployed in February 2012, versus 143,000 in February 2013. Given that healthcare receives notice in the high growth sectors mentioned in the preceding snippet I’m guessing that healthcare IT jobs are leading the way for our sector, too (for more discussion of this aspect of IT, see my UpperTraining blog from yesterday entitled “Healthcare IT Offers Huge Certification and Employment Opportunities“).

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