BLS Jobs Situation Excellent in October 2013 but …

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The delayed October 2013 BLS jobs report was far above expectations, but the massive discrepancy between the household survey and the establishment data puts a big question mark on this good report.

  • The trend growth lines on the establishment employment numbers are flat to mildly increasing. The unadjusted growth this month is the best in ten years (year-over-year comparisons).
  • economic intuitive sectors of employment were mixed.
  • This month’s report internals are significantly inconsistent between the household survey portion and the establishment portion. The household survey portion is telling us this is the worst report since the end of the recession – while the establishment portion is saying it is the best.
  • Making the establishment portion of the report even more solid, last months terrible data for non-farm private was revised up from 126K to 150K.

Please note the following on the inconsistency between the household and establishment surveys:

The difference between the household survey and the establishment survey were massive – so massive that I do not do not buy into the BLS statements on the distortions caused.

Simply the BLS says that the establishment survey results may be more accurate than normal (and was NOT effected by the government shutdown), whilst the household survey was effected by the government shutdown.

What is without question is that October was one of the best Octobers ever if one looks at the establishment survey, and one of the worst Octobers ever if one looks at the household survey.

A summary of the employment situation:

  • BLS reported: 204K (non-farm) and 212K (non-farm private). Unemployment = up 0.1% to 7.3%
  • ADP reported: 130K (non-farm private)
  • Market expected: 85K to 100K (non-farm), 110K (non-farm private), 7.3% to 7.4% unemployment
  • Econintersect‘s Forecast: 150K (non-farm private) based on economic potential
  • The NFIB released a statement (below) saying that small business employment growth was up slightly in October 2013.

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 rose 453,000 – the best October job growth in over 10 years.

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

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

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

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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 up 0.1% at 7.3% with the U-6 “all in” unemployment rate (including those working part time who want a full time job) up 0.2% to 13.8%. 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. and with this months was very strange with a massive drop in the employment-population ratio. 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 fell from 58.6 to 58.3 – this ratio is well below 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.
  • The 0.3% fall in this ratio tells you the economy lost 450,000 jobs.

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 accelerating.

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 unchanged at 34.4 (up one month, down the next). A falling number does not indicate an expanding economy . This number has been in a narrow channel several months.
  • Government employment contracted 8,000 with the Federal Government down 12,000, state governments up 7,000 and local governments down 3,000.
  • The big contributor to employment growth this month was health care (15K), accommodation and food (37.3K), and retail trade (44.4K)
  • The big headwinds this month was the federal goverment (12K)
  • Manufacturing was up 19,000, while construction was up 11,000.
  • The unemployment rate (from household survey) for people between 20 and 24 (Table A-10) improved from 12.9% to 12.5%. This number is produced by survey and is very volatile – and this month’s improvement only reversed last month’s decline.
  • Average hourly earnings (Table B-3) rose one cent to $24.10.

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 (0.4K). 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 (3.3K). 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 is 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 released the following statement in advance of this jobs report:

“In spite of the ‘government shut-down,’ employment rose among small firms in October. NFIB owners reversed September’s trend of job loss adding an average of 0.11 workers per firm. Twelve percent of the owners (up 1 point) reported adding an average of 3.5 workers per firm over the past few months. Offsetting that, 9 percent reduced employment (down 2 points) an average of 2.8 workers (seasonally adjusted), producing the seasonally adjusted gain of 0.11 employees per firm overall. The remaining 79 percent of owners made no net change in employment. Fifty-one (51) percent of the owners hired or tried to hire in the last three months and 40 percent (78 percent of those trying to hire or hiring) reported few or no qualified applicants for open positions.

“Reports of workforce reductions have reached sub-normal levels, explaining the favorable levels of initial claims for unemployment. Nine percent reported reducing employment, the lowest reading since 2006. But owners report sub-par levels of hiring, so job growth remains anemic even with low levels of initial claims.

“Twenty-one percent of all owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period (up 1 point), a positive signal for the unemployment rate. Fifteen (15) percent reported using temporary workers, up 1 point from September. Unfortunately, job creation plans lost 4 points from September, landing at a net 5 percent, no surprise given a rather negative outlook for future business conditions. Not seasonally adjusted, 11 percent plan to increase employment at their firm (down 2 points), and 12 percent plan reductions (up 3 points). Only the Central states showed positive job creation plans (‘energy states’) and job creation plans were very negative in New England.

“With uncertainty mounting and another round of politics coming with the January 15 deadline, owners are not enthusiastic about the prospects for the economy and sales growth, a producing a poor outlook for job creation.”

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 or 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 Januarys.

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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