US employment rises by 227,000

Unemployment rate remains unchanged at 8.3 per cent, due to increase in the size of the workforce

President Obama urges Congress to extend unemployment insurance. Credit:Getty

The US Bureau of Labour Statistics has released its monthly summary of the employment situation, showing an unchanged unemployment rate of 8.3 per cent, but an increase in the number of people in work by 227,000, to just under 242.5 million.

As Ezra Klein wrote this morning, the unemployment rate remaining static is, counterintuitively, a sign of optimistic attitudes towards the economy:

Here’s the issue: Before the recession, the economy needed to produce 120,000 jobs a month just to keep up with new entrants into the labor market. Lately, that number has been closer to 90,000. Part of this is that immigration has fallen and many immigrants are leaving. Part of it is that some workers are leaving the labor force — either they can’t find a job and have given up, or they have decided to stay home with the kids or focus on other pursuits rather than take the sort of jobs they can get right now.

Breaking down the employment levels by sector also reveals some new patterns. For the second month running, government unemployment remained essentially unchanged, while over the course of 2011 it dropped by an average of 22,000 employees a month (although to hear Republicans debating Obama's love of "big government", one could be forgiven for thinking it had risen by that number instead). For the first time in a while, however, the number of teachers in employment increased slightly at both the state and local level, although this was more than offset by the continued decrease at the federa level.

Matt Yglesias has spotted a couple of other nice figures:

Temps were up 45,200 which is a leading indicator of permanent hiring. Durable Goods manufacturing added 31,000 led by Fabricated Metal Products and a continued autos recovery...

General Merchandise Stores stores got killed with 35,400 job losses while Food Services and Drinking Places added a stellar 40,800 jobs. That's the future of the retail environment if you ask me. Fewer stores, more eating and boozing. Health care (as ever) adds lots of jobs.

Finally, there is a large difference between the headline count of 227,000 new employees, which is derived from a sample of employers, and the count from a sample of households, which reports almost 428,000 entrants into the workforce. This discrepancy could have happened for a number of reasons, including simple statistical misweighting (the threshold for statistical significance is four times as large in the household data as the employer count), but it may be similar to the increase that Britain has seen in the number of self-employed people. If it is that, then it is of the same questionable value. Despite Yglesias' suggestion that we may be seeing an "Etsy/Kickstarter recovery", in a recession, self-employment is more often a precarious life "between jobs".

Whatever the cause for those figures, however, the overall picture remains relatively strong - and certainly stronger than we are likely to see in the UK on Wednesday, when our unemployment figures are released.