The job loss torrent slows (we think)

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The employment numbers released today were pretty encouraging. Payroll employment dropped by significantly less in May than most people expected, and while the unemployment rate is now at a scary 9.4% (and is headed higher), that’s a lagging indicator of the state of the economy. The index of weekly leading indicators compiled by the Economic Cycle Research Institute, also out this morning (but not online) shot up again and seems inexorably headed out of recession territory.

Of course, everything gets a lot less jolly when you look at the scale of job losses so far this recession:


Those data are all seasonally adjusted. Without the adjustment, employment actually grew by 319,000 in May and 271,000 in April. It’s just that employment normally grows by a lot more than that in April and May. That’s why they do seasonal adjustments—but you can’t put too much faith in the resulting numbers. Roger Kubarych of UniCredit says the May payroll employment number didn’t square at all with the weekly jobless claims data we’ve been getting (that is, the employment number was much better). His explanation: Different parts of the Labor Department are using different seasonal adjustments.