US Labor Market Underwhelms In December
Unemployment rate drops for the ‘wrong’ reasons
Contact: John Quinterno, Principal, (919) 622-2392
CHAPEL HILL, NC (January 10, 2014) – The national labor market added in December just 74,000 (+0.1 percent) more jobs than it lost. While the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons fell last month, much of the decline was due to people exiting the labor market rather than finding work. Last month, the size of the labor force shrank by 347,000 individuals (-0.2 percent) and now is smaller than it was one year ago.
In December, 10.4 million Americans were unemployed (6.7 percent), while 7.8 million individuals worked part time despite preferring full-time positions. Another 917,000 individuals (not seasonally adjusted) were so discouraged about their job prospects that they had stopped searching for work altogether. Those persons were part of a larger population of 2.4 million Americans who were marginally attached to the labor force.
“December was the 39th-straight month of job growth recorded in the United States,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “Over the past year, the national economy netted an average of 182,000 jobs per month. Yet the country is still almost eight million jobs short of the number needed to replace the jobs lost since 2007 and to accommodate the subsequent growth in the size of the working-age population.”
In December, the nation’s employers added 74,000 more payroll positions than they cut (+0.1 percent). Gains occurred entirely in the private sector (+87,000), while government employers eliminated 13,000 more positions than they added, due mainly to cuts by local governments.
Furthermore, the payroll employment numbers for October and November underwent revisions; with the updates, the economy netted 441,000 jobs over those two months, not the 403,000 positions previously reported.
Within the private sector, payroll levels rose the most in the trade, transportation, and utilities sector (+69,000, with 80.1 percent of the gains occurring in the retail trade subsector), followed by the professional and business services sector (+19,000, with virtually all of the gain occurring in the administrative and waste services subsector), and the manufacturing sector (+9,000). Payroll levels in all other major sectors either declined (led by construction, -16,000) or were essentially unchanged from November.
“Since last December, the American economy has gained 2.2 million more payroll positions that it has lost,” noted Quinterno. “While the rate of growth had been accelerating in the months prior to December, the average monthly rate of job growth over the past year—some 182,000 positions per month—will not close the nation’s jobs gap anytime soon.”
Labor market conditions as measured by the household survey deteriorated in December. Last month, 10.4 million Americans (6.7 percent of the labor force) were jobless and seeking work. Both the unemployment rate and the total number of unemployed persons were lower than in the prior month. In December, the share of the population participating in the labor force fell to 62.8 percent, a rate lower than the one posted a year ago and one tied for the lowest rate logged in the past 35 years. This indicates that unemployment fell largely due to a contraction in the size of the labor force rather than an increase in employment.
Compared to a year ago, 1.4 million more Americans were working in December, and 1.9 million fewer persons were unemployed. At the same time, the share of the working-age population with a job (58.6 percent) remained at a depressed level.
Last month, the unemployment rate was higher among adult male workers than female ones (6.3 percent versus 6 percent). Unemployment rates were higher among Black (11.9 percent) and Hispanic workers (8.3 percent) than among white ones (5.9 percent). The unemployment rate among teenagers was 20.2 percent.
Moreover, 5.5 percent of all veterans were unemployed, and the rate among recent veterans (served after September 2001) was 7.3 percent. At the same time, 11.9 percent of Americans with disabilities were jobless and seeking work (not seasonally adjusted).
Jobs remained comparatively hard to find in December. Last month, the underemployment rate equaled 13.1 percent, down from the 14.4 percent rate logged a year ago. Not only were 10.4 million Americans unemployed, but 7.8 million individuals worked part-time jobs despite preferring full-time work. Another 917,000 individuals (not seasonally adjusted) were so discouraged about the labor market that they had stopped searching for work.
Among unemployed workers, 37.7 percent had been jobless for at least six months (compared to 39.1 percent a year earlier), and the average spell of unemployment equaled 37.1 weeks, down from an average duration of 38 weeks in December 2012.
In December, the leading cause of unemployment remained a job loss or the completion of a temporary job, which was the reason cited by 51.3 percent of unemployed persons. Another 29 percent of unemployed persons were re-entrants to the labor market, while 11.5 percent were new entrants. Voluntary job leavers accounted for the remaining 8.2 percent of the total.
“The December employment report offers evidence of an underperforming labor market,” observed Quinterno. “Last month, job growth slowed markedly and joblessness increased as a result of individuals abandoning the labor market altogether. The bottom line is that the American economy is not generating enough jobs for all those who want and need work.”
“Despite the passage of six years since the onset of the ‘Great Recession,’ the United States’ jobs crisis remains far from over.”
South by North Strategies, Ltd. is a research and communications firm specializing in economic and social policy. It provides applied policy research for organizations seeking to understand and address economic and social issues. The firm is based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Learn about South by North Strategies’ new book, “Running the Numbers: A Practical Guide to Regional Economic and Social Analysis” (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2014).