U.S. Employment: Beyond the Headlines

The non-farm payrolls last week showed an additional 103,000 jobs in December, and a drop in the unemployment rate to 9.4% from 9.8% in November. Is the U.S. economy on its way to a healthy recovery, or are there more to the figures than we think?

At the wake of its release, the dollar traded lower across the board because job growth fell short of the 150,000 forecast. Good thing the change in unemployment rate managed to soften the fall, as the data represented the sharpest drop since 1998.

The employment-population ratio also inched up to 58.3 from 58.2 in November, even though the number is eons away from the pre-crisis peak of 63.4. Then, improvements in the manufacturing and services sectors also popped up, with the manufacturing sector employment expanding after four months of contraction.

On the surface, the decrease in the unemployment rate may seem like ice-cold water on a hot summer day. However, many market guru-wannabes are saying that the fall was mainly because people got so frustrated and just stopped looking for a job.

The less famous U-6 unemployment rate, which counts the “marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons,” actually stands at a whopping 16.7%. “Marginally attached” pertains to people who have gotten discouraged and stopped looking, but still want to be employed.

Since they aren’t part of the workforce anymore, they are not considered unemployed, and are therefore not counted in the final tally. The people who dropped out of the workforce amounted to 260,000, which is about one-half of the .4% decrease in the unemployment rate. Ah, that was the trick!

More importantly, the pace of job creation is not fast enough to cater to the growing workforce. In order for the U.S. to absorb increasing number of people needing jobs, the economy must create around 140,000 jobs per month. That’s barely two-thirds of the 103,000 figure in December!

Other bits of employment data weren’t too optimistic either. Average weekly hours and earnings were barely changed, which could have a negative effect on consumer spending in the long-haul.

Now before you call me Forex Grump (I don’t find it funny by the way) because of my gloom-and-doom take on the U.S. economy, you should take a look at what the numbers say. Sure, the drop in the unemployment rate is definitely something to be happy about, but you have to realize that it’s NOT because the economy is gaining momentum.

This doesn’t mean that we’ll be seeing the Greenback fall on poor fundamentals though! If risk aversion persists and traders continue to focus on the ongoing debt drama in euro zone, then the Greenback may be able to hold on to its gains against its higher-yielding counterparts despite the U.S. economy struggling like Britney Spears’ career.

I don’t know how long the dollar’s rally is going to last, but once the market gets over euro zone’s sovereign debt crisis, we may see traders return to old-school fundamental analysis and look past the dollar’s safe haven reputation. And that’s probably when you bulls should start ducking for cover!

  • JoshG

    FIRST COMMENT!!!!

  • Dimondwoof

    I would really love to know who those people are that “get so frustrated and just stopped looking for a job”. Like people have a choice? Are you kidding me? This is just a mechanism to skew the unemployment numbers.

    What this term REALLY refers to is the number of people who have been unemployed so long that their Unemployment Insurance has run out, so they aren’t even getting that money any more. So they shouldn’t be excluded from the unemployment rate, if anything they should be counted twice!

  • JoshG

    FIRST COMMENT!!!!

  • Dimondwoof

    I would really love to know who those people are that “get so frustrated and just stopped looking for a job”. Like people have a choice? Are you kidding me? This is just a mechanism to skew the unemployment numbers.

    What this term REALLY refers to is the number of people who have been unemployed so long that their Unemployment Insurance has run out, so they aren’t even getting that money any more. So they shouldn’t be excluded from the unemployment rate, if anything they should be counted twice!