Five Numbers You Need to Know from January’s Jobs Report

Posted by Tim Fernholz

The government released its monthly report on unemployment today, and, well, it’s kind of a doozy, one of the best reports in the last three years. Here’s five numbers from that report you should know about.

243,000. That’s the net increase in employment last month, a significant amount of hiring and one of the few unambiguously good economic indicators we’ve seen in a while. This kind of report not only shows that more people are getting back to work, but also boosts confidence and forecasts a stronger recovery ahead. The rate of employment was reduced to 8.3 percent, but that’s about to become a less reliable indicator. As hiring improves, people who left the job market will return, artificially inflating the rate of unemployment but adding, in real terms, to the number of people who are working.

157,000. That’s the net increase in jobs last November. Why are we talking about that now? The Bureau of Labor Statistics (the folks who compile this data) goes back and checks their work after each months’ jobs report is out. It turns out they undercounted November jobs by 57,000 and December jobs by 3,000, meaning 60,000 new jobs were created in those two months without us picking up on it. Now that we have, it’s another sign that the economy has been picking up.

$23.29. That’s the average hourly earnings for all workers except farm employees, and it’s been growing .2 percent month-to-month; in the last year, hourly earnings have increased 1.9 percent.  This number reflects how many hours of work employees can get—more during a recovery—and how well they are paid; as the labor market tightens, we can expect the number to increase.

70,000. The number of “business and professional services” employees hired in January, one of the main sectors to improve, though growth was spread broadly, with hiring everywhere from manufacturing and retail to construction and mining. Business and professional services is something of a catch-all for white collar workers, including administrative assistants, computer programmers, architects and managers, but perhaps most appropriate was the 33,000 increase in employment services workers—the people who help manage hiring.

5.5 million. The number of people who have been unemployed for six months or more; folks like this make up about 42 percent of the jobless. The continuing existence of this kind of chronic joblessness is a reminder that we have a long way to go before we have an economy that provides a fair chance for everyone.

Chart courtesy Calculated Risk