Prior to this morning’s release of the April employment numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, many economists had predicted new job numbers would be under 100,000 again for that month, much in the same vein of the 88,000 new jobs reported for March 2013. Not so: the number came out at 165,000, much in keeping with numbers seen earlier in 2013 and late 2012. This kind of growth isn’t vigorous enough to lift the labor market out of the doldrums with any kind of speed but –as the old saying goes — “it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.” The overall unemployment rate at 7.5 percent is little altered from the previous month’s 7.6 percent, and the total numbers of unemployed (reported at 11.7 million) is also hardly budging from previous levels, either.
Slow steady improvement keeps plugging gamely along, despite dire predictions following sequester-related government furloughs and layoffs
Why is this news a surprise, when it keeps a fairly steady trend slowly grinding along? Because economists and politicians alike don’t really know what to make of the government funding cut known as “the sequester” and its overall impact on the labor market. Given the government’s heavy impact on overall employment and markets, it’s not unreasonable that all should be concerned about a negative impact of reining spending in through across-the-board spending cuts in that sector. But at least for April, the impact so far has not really moved the overall trend that’s persisted for the last 15 months or more. I’ll describe this as an agonizingly slow recovery, punctuated by occasional steps backward (as with the April report of only 88,000 new jobs added) but also with equally occasional steps forward (as with the March report of 236,000 new jobs) as well. On average, however, the improvement rate has been on the order of 150-165,000 jobs per month for some time now.
Alas, this means we’re still years and years away from soaking up our spare working capacity and reaching more normal levels of unemployment in the 5-6 percent range. And of course, we’re also still subject to hiccups, crises, financial reversals, and other influences that might retard or derail such recovery as we’re still able to muster. Does this language inject more drama into the employment situation summary than the numbers actually warrant? Probably, but the overall pace is slow enough that the recovery’s fragility also remains blindingly obvious. All I can say is: “Keep your fingers crossed, and let’s keep it going.”