The shocking disappearance of 0.38% of American jobs

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A whopping 0.38% of American nonfarm jobs disappeared in September and October, the Labor Department announced today.

What? That doesn’t sound whopping? It’s 524,000 jobs, which amounts to a lot of people’s livelihoods lost and financial security dashed. But it’s still just a tiny share of those employed in this country, estimated at 136,899,000 in October. And by the standards of past recessions, it’s not that big a drop–there were more severe slides in employment in 2001 and 1991, and significantly more severe ones in 1981 and 1982.

This could just be the beginning of a much worse employment decline, of course. Since the beginning of this year, payroll employment is down a total of 0.85%. Between July 1981 and December 1982, employment shrank by 3.1%. But even that 3.1% figure is a reminder that economic downturns (and economic upturns) play out mainly on the margins. The vast majority of workers remain employed–and will remain employed even if the recession deepens. Barring an unraveling of the financial system, they will eventually get back to spending at a healthier pace than in the scary month of October.