econintersect .com

FREE NEWSLETTER: Econintersect sends a nightly newsletter highlighting news events of the day, and providing a summary of new articles posted on the website. Econintersect will not sell or pass your email address to others per our privacy policy. You can cancel this subscription at any time by selecting the unsubscribing link in the footer of each email.

posted on 05 May 2017

April 2017 BLS Jobs Situation Improved This Month

Written by Steven Hansen

The headline seasonally adjusted BLS job growth was above expectations. Last month's meager gains were revised down.

Analyst Opinion of the BLS Employment Situation

The household and establishment surveys were in sync this month. The unemployment rate drop was caused by a insignificant number of people added to the workforce. I consider this report good, but one has mixed feeling while diving into the data - is the glass half full or empty?

  • The year-over-year rate of growth for employment slowed this month relative to last month (red line on graph below) - even though the number of people employed improved over last month. This is a year-over-year analysis which has no seasonality issues.

  • Economic intuitive sectors of employment were very soft.
  • This month's report internals (comparing household to establishment data sets) was fairly consistent with the household survey showing seasonally adjusted employment improving 156,000 vs the headline establishment number of growing 211,000. The point here is that part of the headlines are from the household survey (such as the unemployment rate) and part is from the establishment survey (job growth). From a survey control point of view - the common element is jobs growth - and if they do not match, your confidence in either survey is diminished. [note that the household survey includes ALL jobs growth, not just non-farm).
  • The household survey added 12,000 people to the labor force.
  • The NFIB statement on jobs is at the end of this post.

A summary of the employment situation:

  • BLS reported: 211K (non-farm) and 194K (non-farm private). Unemployment rate improved 0.1 % to 4.4 %.
  • ADP reported: 177K (non-farm private)
  • In Econintersect's April 2017 economic forecast released in late March, we estimated non-farm private payroll growth at 110,000 (based on economic potential) and 205,000 (fudged based on current overrun of economic potential);
  • The market expected (from Bloomberg / Econoday):
Seasonally Adjusted Data Consensus Range Consensus Actual
Nonfarm Payrolls - M/M change 150,000 to 225,000 185,000 211,000
Unemployment Rate - Level 4.5 % to 4.6 % 4.6 % 4.4 %
Private Payrolls - M/M change 158,000 to 210,000 180,000 194,000
Average Hourly Earnings - M/M change 0.2 % to 0.4 % 0.3 % +0.3 %
Average Hourly Earnings - Y/Y change 2.7 % to 2.9 % 2.7 % +2.5 %
Av Workweek - All Employees
34.3 hrs to 34.4 hrs
34.4 hrs 34.4 hrs

The BLS reports seasonally adjusted data - manipulated with multiple seasonal adjustment factors, and Econintersect believes the unadjusted data gives a clearer picture of the jobs situation.

Non-seasonally adjusted non-farm payrolls grew 995,000 - slightly below average for times of economic expansion - and the worst showing since 2013.

The comparing the jobs gains this month with the same month historically:

Last month's headline employment gains were revised down. Generally speaking, employment is overstated when the economy is slowing and understated when the economy is accelerating.

Most of the analysis below uses unadjusted data, and presents an alternative view to the headline data.


The BLS reported U-3 (headline) unemployment was 4.4 % with the U-6 "all in" unemployment rate (including those working part time who want a full time job) improved 0.3 % to 8.6 %. These numbers are volatile as they are created from the household survey.

BLS U-3 Headline Unemployment (red line, left axis), U-6 All In Unemployment (blue line, left axis), and Median Duration of Unemployment (green line, right axis)

Econintersect has an interpretation of employment supply slack using the BLS employment-population ratio, demonstrated by the graph below. The employment-population ratio was improved 0.1 to 60.2.

Employment-Population Ratio

The jobs picture - when the employment / population as a whole - has been on an uptrend since mid-2011. This ratio is determined by household survey.

  • Econintersect uses employment-populations ratios to monitor the jobless situation. The headline unemployment number requires the BLS to guess at the size of the workforce, then guess again who is employed or not employed. In employment - population ratios, the population is a given and the guess is who is employed.
  • This ratio has been in a general uptrend since the beginning of 2014. The employment-population ratio tells you the percent of the population with a job. Each 0.1% increment represents approximately 300,000 jobs. [Note: these are seasonally adjusted numbers - and we are relying on the BLS to get this seasonal adjustment factor correct]. An unchanged ratio would be telling you that jobs growth was around 150,000 - as this is approximately the new entries to the labor market caused by population growth.

Employment Metrics

The growth trend in the establishment survey's non-farm payroll year-over-year growth rate was trending up beginning of 2014 but has been trending down beginning in 2015. Year-over-year growth slightly degraded this month.

Unadjusted Non-Farm Payrolls Year-over-Year Growth

Another way to view employment is to watch the total hours worked which are in a long term downtrend.

Percent Change Year-over-Year Non-Farm Private Weekly Hours Worked

The bullets below use seasonally adjusted data from the establishment survey except where indicated:

  • Average hours worked (table B-2) was improved 0.1 to 34.4. A rising number normally indicates an expanding economy .
  • Government employment gained 17,000 (17K) with the Federal Government down 6K, state governments up 0K and local governments up 23K.
  • The big contributor to employment growth this month was accomodation and food (26.2K), health care and support services (36.8K).
  • Manufacturing was up 6K, and construction was up 5K.
  • The unemployment rate (from household survey) for people between 20 and 24 (Table A-10) was unchanged at 7.3 %. This number is produced by survey and is very volatile.
  • Average hourly earnings (Table B-3) was up $0.07 to $26.19.

Private Employment: Average Hourly Earnings

Economic Metrics

Economic markers used to benchmark economic growth (all from the establishment survey).

The truck employment was down 0.1K.

Truck Transport Employment - Year-over-Year Change

Temporary help up 5.8K.

Temporary Help Employment - Year-over-Year Change

Econintersect believes the transport sector is a forward indicator. Others look at temporary help as a forward indicator.

Food for Thought

Who are the victims in this employment situation. It is not people over 55.

Index of Employment Levels - 55 and up (blue line), 45 to 54 (red line), 35 to 44 (green line), 25 to 34 (purple line), 20 to 24 (light blue line), and 16 to 19 (orange line)

Women are doing better than men.

Index of Employment Levels - Men (blue line) vs Women (red line)

Mom and Pop employment remains below recessionary levels.

The less education one has, the less chance of finding a job.

Index of Employment Levels - University graduate (blue line), Some college or AA degree (orange line), high school graduates (green line), and high school dropouts (red line)

Here is an indexed view of employment levels.

Index of Employment Levels (from the BLS Establishment Survey) - Hispanic (blue line), African American (red line), and White (green line)

However, keep in mind that population growth is different for each group. Here is a look at employment to population ratios which clearly shows NO group has recovered from the Great Recession:

Employment / Population Ratios (from the BLS Household Survey) - Hispanic (blue line), African American (red line), and White (green line)

Soaring optimism since November is sparking activity among small employers, according to National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB):

Small employers' confidence in the future of the U.S. economy is stimulating employment growth in the small business sector, according to the NFIB April Jobs Report released today.

"The small business community is creating jobs again," said NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan. "They are energized by the prospect of better federal policies on taxes, health care, and regulations."

Small business owners reported a seasonally adjusted average employment change of 0.19 workers per firm in April, a very strong reading. Fifty-five percent of owners reported hiring or trying to hire, up four points. Forty-eight percent reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill. Those citing the difficulty of finding qualified workers as their Single Most Important Business Problem remained unchanged at 16 percent.

"More small business owners were able to increase employment in April, which is a positive sign for the U.S. economy," said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. "However, they still face an extremely tight labor market and are struggling to find qualified workers to fill open positions."

Thirty-three percent of all owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, up three points and the highest reading since November 2000. Reports of compensation increases faded two points, but remain historically strong.

"The scarcity of qualified applicants and the increased pressure to raise compensation is very frustrating to small employers," said Dunkelberg. "They're often competing with bigger businesses which have additional resources to attract and retain more qualified employees."

A seasonally adjusted net 16 percent of owners plan to create new jobs, which is unchanged from March and a very strong reading. The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index has sustained historically high readings since the November election. NFIB says the spike in optimism is directly related to the promise of policy changes from Washington. Duggan suggested that Washington focus on the very policies that have strangled job creation for the last decade, including high and complex taxes, overregulation, and the Affordable Care Act.

"As Congress and the White House negotiate health care and tax reform in the coming weeks, they must remember that both start with small business," said Duggan. "Our members will be paying close attention, and our data will reflect the actions of those in Washington."

Caveat on the use of BLS Jobs Data

The monthly headline data ends up being significantly revised for months after the initial release - and is subject also to annual revisions. The question remains how seriously can you take the data when first released.

Econintersect Contributor Jeff Miller has the following description of BLS methodology:

  1. An initial report of a survey of establishments. Even if the survey sample was perfect (and we all know that it is not) and the response rate was 100% (which it is not) the sampling error alone for a 90% confidence interval is +/- 100K jobs.
  2. The report is revised to reflect additional responses over the next two months.
  3. There is an adjustment to account for job creation — much maligned and misunderstood by nearly everyone.
  4. The final data are benchmarked against the state employment data every year. This usually shows that the overall process was very good, but it led to major downward adjustments at the time of the recession. More recently, the BLS estimates have been too low.

ADP (blue line) versus BLS (red line) - Monthly Jobs Growth Comparison

However, there is some discussion that neither the ADP nor BLS numbers are correct - as both are derived by a sampling methodology. The answer could be that there is no correct answer in real time - and that it is best to look at the trends. As has been noted, all eventually end up correlating.

The BLS uses seasonal adjusted data for its headline numbers. The seasonally adjusted employment data is produced by an algorithm. The following graph which shows unadjusted job growth - seasonal adjustments spread employment growth over the entire year. Employment does not really grow in the second half of the year and always falls significantly in January.

Non-Seasonally Adjusted Employment - Private Sector

There is the proverbial question on what is minimal jobs growth each month required to allow for new entrants to the market. Depending on mindset, this answer varies. According to Investopdia, the number is between 100,000 and 150,000. The Wall Street Journal is citing 125K. Mark Zandi said 150K. Econintersect is going with Mark Zandi's number:

  • In Econintersect's June 2014 economic forecast released in late May, we estimated non-farm payroll growth at 160,000 (unadjusted based on economic potential) and 229,000 (fudged based on current overrun of economic potential).
  • If Econintersect uses employment - population ratios, the correct number would be the number where this ratio improved. Using the graph below, the ratio began to improve starting a little after mid-year. This corresponds to the period where the 12 month rolling average of job gains hit 150,000.

Employment to Population Ratio

Note: The ratio could be fine tuned by adjusting to the ratio of employment to working age population rather than the total population. However, this would not change the big picture that an increase of somewhere around 150,000 (+/-) is needed for the growing population numbers. We have estimated 140k - 160k. The number might possibly be within the range 125k - 175k. Econintersect cannot find reason to support the estimates below 125k.

The question of how changing demographics impact the employment numbers is at the margins of analysis. Econintersect will publish more on this fine tuning going forward, both in-house research and the work of others.

>>>>> Scroll down to view and make comments <<<<<<

Permanent link to most recent post on this topic

Click here for Historical Releases Listing

Make a Comment

Econintersect wants your comments, data and opinion on the articles posted. You can also comment using Facebook directly using he comment block below.

Econintersect Economic Releases

Print this page or create a PDF file of this page
Print Friendly and PDF

The growing use of ad blocking software is creating a shortfall in covering our fixed expenses. Please consider a donation to Econintersect to allow continuing output of quality and balanced financial and economic news and analysis.

Keep up with economic news using our dynamic economic newspapers with the largest international coverage on the internet
Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

 navigate econintersect .com


Analysis Blog
News Blog
Investing Blog
Opinion Blog
Precious Metals Blog
Markets Blog
Video of the Day


Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

RSS Feeds / Social Media

Combined Econintersect Feed

Free Newsletter

Marketplace - Books & More

Economic Forecast

Content Contribution



  Top Economics Site Contributor TalkMarkets Contributor Finance Blogs Free PageRank Checker Active Search Results Google+

This Web Page by Steven Hansen ---- Copyright 2010 - 2018 Econintersect LLC - all rights reserved