Employment: Worst since 1974-1975

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Barbara’s working on a piece for TIME.com about today’s nasty unemployment report, which we’ll link to when it’s up. (Update: Here it is.) As always, I’m frustrated with all the reporters and Wall Street economists who look at the payroll employment drop of 598,000 in January and say it’s the worst since December 1974—ignoring the fact that the overall population and labor force in December 1974 was much smaller than today. So I’ve been playing with Excel to look at percentage drops in payroll employment. And here’s what I’ve found.

1) January’s 0.44% drop in nonfarm payroll employment was the worst one-month drop since May 1980, when employment fell 0.47%. (There was also a 0.44% drop in November 2008, but that was rounded up from 0.438% while January’s was rounded down from 0.442%.)

2) The three-month fall in employment of 1.30% was the worst since the 1.71% drop from Dec. 1974 to Feb. 1975.

3) The six-month fall in employment of 1.93% was the worst since the 2.09% drop from Dec. 1974 to April 1975.

4) The nine-month fall in employment of 2.23% was the worst since the 2.36% drop from Oct. 1974 to July 1975.

5) The twelve-month fall in employment of 2.53% was the worst since the 2.62% drop in the 12 months ending in November 1982.

The lesson here: Maybe I should stop wasting my time playing with spreadsheets. As measured by the percentage drop in payroll employment over most of the time periods I looked at, this is the worst since 1974-1975. And barring a dramatic recovery in the next couple of months, the total job losses from this recession will likely come out even worse than those of 1974-1975.

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