Bob Miano's Blog

An Executive journal

U.S. Employment Rates ARE Improving

Last week, the BLS reported an increase of 216,000 new jobs and an unemployment rate of 8.8%. While some pessimists will claim the 8.8% shows very little progress, I would ask them to take another look. Those numbers represent the 6th straight month of employment gains. Have a look:

- October 2010 BLS Numbers: 210,000 new jobs gained
- November 2010 BLS Numbers: 93,000 new jobs gained
- December 2010 BLS Numbers: 152,000 new jobs gained
- January 2011 BLS Numbers: 68,000 new jobs gained
- February 2011 BLS Numbers: 194,000 new jobs gained
- March 2011 BLS Numbers: 216,000 new jobs gained

I will concede that the difference between February’s 8.9% unemployment and March’s 8.8% doesn’t look or feel significant. But, I will also argue that those six months of gains above offer positive news that can be seen in improving local job markets. For example, at Harvey Nash we are seeing greater job demand in all our markets, most dramatically on the East Coast as I explained in this recent article in the New Jersey Record.

How we look at numbers like unemployment and consumer confidence defines so much of how we feel about our economic health and security. I, for one, agree with the many pundits out there who say that today’s employment measures do not give an accurate account of what is happening in the marketplace.

Take for example the fact that to be counted as unemployed, someone must have searched for a job in the past month. Today, many people out of work are counted in the labor force metrics for much longer than they would have been in the past. Why? Because they are required to search for a job in order to receive unemployment insurance benefits. Those unemployment benefits have now been extended to historic lengths—99 weeks. So today’s numbers cannot be accurately compared to past periods of long unemployment because the rules of the game have changed.

Some experts argue that higher unemployment would actually be a good thing rather than a bad one. Take a look at this article in Money, which explains how higher unemployment could be a sign of an improving economy as once discouraged job seekers are optimistic enough to start looking for work again. Clearly U.S. job numbers as they are calculated today are open to wide interpretation. Perhaps a more accurate measurement of American job trends would be to evaluate the number of employed in comparison to U.S. population trends?

Whatever the new measure is, we can all agree on this: As long as qualified people who want to work can’t find jobs, we have a problem. So six months of gains is encouraging, but I am not kidding myself. We still have a long way to go.