BLS Jobs Situation Not Good in December 2013

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The December 2013 BLS jobs report was not good.

  • The trend growth lines on the establishment employment numbers are flat to mildly decelerating. The unadjusted growth this month was not as good as last year (year-over-year comparisons).
  • economic intuitive sectors of employment were positive.
  • This month’s report internals (comparing household to establishment data sets) were ok – but the drop this month in the unemployment rate is misleading.
  • Seasonally adjusted household survey data has been revised this month, a procedure done at the end of each calendar year. Seasonally adjusted estimates back to January 2009 were subject to revision. The revision appeared small, and did not impact our past analysis.
  • The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) statement on the December Jobs report is below.

A summary of the employment situation:

  • BLS reported: 74K (non-farm) and 87K (non-farm private). Unemployment is down 0.3% to 6.7%
  • ADP reported: 238K (non-farm private)
  • Market expected: 185K to 197K (non-farm), 200K (non-farm private), 7.0% to 7.1% unemployment
  • Econintersect‘s Forecast: 130K (non-farm private) based on economic potential

The BLS reports seasonally adjusted data. This data is highly manipulated, and Econintersect believes the unadjusted data gives a clearer picture of the jobs situation.

Non-seasonally adjusted non-farm payrolls fell 80,000 – not as good as last year, and the worst performance since 2010.

Historical Unadjusted Private Non-Farm Jobs Growth Between Novembers and Decembers (Table B-1, data in thousands) – unadjusted (blue line) vs seasonally adjusted (red line)

/images/bls non-adjusted change.PNG

As always, the recent past data was revised – this month was slightly upward.

Change in Seasonally Adjusted Non-Farm Payrolls Between Originally Reported (blue bars) and Current Estimates (red bars)

/images/z bls1.png

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 down 0.3% at 6.7% with the U-6 “all in” unemployment rate (including those working part time who want a full time job) unchanged at 13.1%. 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 unadjusted data base, demonstrated by the graph below.

Employment-Population Ratio

The jobs picture when you view the population as a whole.  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.
  • In the latest BLS report employment-population ratio was unchanged at 58.6 – this ratio is within its short term trend between 58.5 and 58.6. 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 3 year growth trend in the establishment survey’s non-farm payroll is up, and the short term trends are mixed depending on the periods selected – however, it seems the growth trend in the last 18 months is relatively flat. The three month trend is now relatively flat to slightly decelerating.

Unadjusted Non-Farm Payrolls Year-over-Year Growth

Another way to view employment is to watch the total hours worked which has been been growing at a slower rate since the middle of 2010.

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 down 0.1 at 34.4 (up one month, down the next). A rising number normally indicates an expanding economy . This number has been in a narrow channel several months.
  • Government employment contracted 13,000 with the Federal Government down 2,000, state governments down 2,000 and local governments down 9,000.
  • The big contributor to employment growth this month was temporary help (40.4K)
  • There were headwinds to employment this month from government (-13K), performing arts and spectator sports (-11.6K), accounting (-24.7K), and construction (-16K)
  • Manufacturing was up 9,000, while construction was down  16,000.
  • The unemployment rate (from household survey) for people between 20 and 24 (Table A-10) improved from 11.6% to 11.1%. This number is produced by survey and is very volatile.
  • Average hourly earnings (Table B-3) rose two cents to $24.17.

Private Employment: Average Hourly Earnings

Economic Metrics

Economic markers used to benchmark economic growth (all from the establishment survey) were mixed, but well away from recessionary levels.

The truck employment was up (0.1K). The year-over-year improvement is well into expansion territory, although it has a declining growth trend line.

Truck Transport Employment – Year-over-Year Change

Temporary help increased (40.4K). Note that many believe (I am not convinced), that Obamacare is creating a shift from permanent to temporary jobs. If this is the case, this metric would be inoperative.

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 mediocre employment situation. It is not people over 55.

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

Women are doing better than men.

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

Mom and Pop employment is 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)

And being white is not helpful for employment. FRED does not have data series for Asians, but the BLS does – and indexed Asian employment levels are similar to Hispanic.

Index of Employment Levels – Hispanic (blue line), African American (red line), and White (green line)

Chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) William C. Dunkelberg, issued the following statement on the December job numbers:

December brought us good news on the jobs front. NFIB owners increased employment by an average of 0.24 workers per firm in December (seasonally adjusted), the best reading since February 2006. Fourteen percent of the owners (seasonally adjusted) reported adding an average of 3.4 workers per firm over the past few months. Offsetting that, 10 percent (seasonally adjusted) reduced employment (down 2 points) an average of 1.8 workers, producing the seasonally adjusted net gain of 0.24 workers per firm overall. The remaining 76 percent of owners made no net change in employment.

The ability to find qualified applicants for available jobs continues to plague the small-business community. Forty-eight percent of owners hired or tried to hire in the last three months and 38 percent reported few or no qualified applicants for open positions.

But, while actual job creation appears to be rising, plans to create jobs took a dive. Job creation plans fell 1 point, falling to a net 8 percent, but maintaining the improved level of plans recorded last month. Not seasonally adjusted, 13 percent plan to increase employment at their firm (unchanged), and 10 percent plan reductions (down 1 point).

Twenty-three percent of all owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period (unchanged), a positive signal for the unemployment rate and the highest reading since January 2008. Fourteen percent reported using temporary workers, up 1 point from November.

Overall, it appears that owners hired more workers on balance in December than their hiring plans indicated in November, a favorable development. Job openings maintained its solid reading and job creation plans, though slipping a point, held on to the improved levels observed in recent months. Job creation is slowly moving in a positive direction.

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.

The above graphic (updated through October 2011) is the month-over-month change in employment based on the original headline non-farm employment level and the current stated employment levels at month end. You will note some pretty drastic backward revision for a major economic release the market reacts to in real time.

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.

Econintersect has repeatedly pointed out questions about how the seasonal adjustment algorithms and data gathering methodology used by the BLS introduce uncertainty into interpretation of month to month changes in employment.

Econintersect believes the simplistic sampling extrapolation technique of ADP yields a far better picture of the employment situation than the complicated, convoluted Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) methodology. However, ADP is using a new methodology beginning with the October 2012 data – and only time will tell if their new approach was as good as their old one.

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

Because of the differences in methodology, many pundits ignore the ADP numbers – while waiting for the BLS numbers. Although there can be a low correlation in a particular month, the different methodologies tend to balance out, and the correlations are excellent outside of the data turning points. We are now 16 months past the post recession turning point in employment.

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:

  • If Econintersect used employment / population ratios to determine the number, the exact number seems to be between 140,000 and 160,000. The graph below uses the historical employment-population ratios to show jobs growth per month if the population was 300 million.

Historical Monthly Jobs Growth Comparison if Population was 300 Million

  • 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.

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