The Big Story Blog

Three good, three bad stats in today's jobless data

Posted at 10:50 AM on December 2, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Jobs and unemployment

Trolling through the national unemployment data released this morning, it's a mixed bag of good and worrisome. Below is my take. Tell me what you see in the data.


Rate down. The monthly unemployment rate is an imperfect stat but it's taken on huge psychological importance in the four years since the Great Recession began. There's still a long way to go to return to life before the recession, but we'll take it.


Fewer "discouraged" workers. Discouraged workers are those who say they've given up looking for work because there's nothing out there. The count on those folks fell to 1.1 million, down 186,000, about 15 percent, from last year.

Positive updates. Analysts regularly update and revise past estimates of job growth. It's discouraging when job numbers drop in revisions. Today, though, it was good news:

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for September was revised from +158,000 to +210,000, and the change for October was revised from +80,000 to +100,000.


Smaller workforce. To be counted as unemployed you have to be considered in the labor force, seeking work. When people strop looking for work they drop out of the labor force, which has a positive effect on the jobless rate even if job creation isn't great. Data show the civilian labor force participation rate declined in November.

Retail drove much of the growth. More than 40 percent of the new jobs created in November came in retail, with nearly all of those jobs in clothing and electronics /appliance stores. These aren't high paying jobs that will drive a recovery and they'll disappear again if retail slides.

Meanwhile, manufacturing and construction, the kind of employment that builds stuff, is still struggling for traction:

Manufacturing employment changed little over the month and has remained essentially unchanged since July. In November, fabricated metal products added 8,000 jobs, while electronic instruments lost 2,000 jobs.

Construction employment showed little movement in November. Employment in the
industry has shown little change, on net, since early 2010.

Long term unemployed doesn't budge. The number of people out of work for 27 weeks or more remains stubbornly high at 5.7 million. That's about 43 percent of the unemployed, about the same as it was a year earlier.

Those long-term unemployed could be the biggest worry going forward. Will they be employable in the future or will they drop out of the work force? What happens to them?

About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.