Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

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Today’s monthly employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was surprisingly positive. Meaning only that it was less negative than most people expected it would be. Nonfarm employment, the number worth paying the most attention to, was down 247,000 in July—compared with 395,000 in June and an average of 645,000 during the dark months of November through April. (Props to Jan Hatzius at Goldman Sachs and Samuel Coffin at UBS, who both sent out e-mails yesterday afternoon/evening predicting that the number would be around 250,000). The unemployment rate, which is derived from a different survey and is a less reliable indicator, was down a tenth of a percent to 9.4%.

So that’s the good news. The bad news is that there are no real signs of economic life in the details of the employment report, just a slowdown in the pace of losses in most of the big categories. The most significant job creation was in health care, which added 19,600 jobs. But that’s nothing new, and it’s not unmitigated good news—we want to cut health care spending, don’t we? The federal government added 12,000 jobs, “arts, entertainment, and recreation” added 10,000 (who knew?). Oh, and the auto industry supposedly added 28,000 jobs, but I’ll let the BLS explain that away:

In motor vehicles and parts, fewer workers than usual were laid off in July for seasonal retooling. … In large part, July’s seasonally-adjusted increase reflects the fact that previous job cuts had been so extensive that there were fewer workers to lay off during the seasonal shutdown.

The above numbers are seasonally adjusted—which is necessary to do, but adds lots of potential for weird statistical quirks like the auto employment increase. Without the seasonal adjustments, employment fell a whopping 1.3 million in the month. And there were 5.9 million fewer jobs in July 2009 than in July 2008.

Now back to some slightly better news. All that jobs information comes from the BLS’s establishment survey of about 150,000 businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, etc. The unemployment rate comes from a Census Bureau survey of 60,000 households. Because of the smaller sample size and other factors, the household survey is generally seen as a less reliable indicator of month-to-month changes in the job market. But because the establishment survey can miss new businesses, the household survey sometimes provides signs of an employment turning point before the establishment survey does. Unreliable signs, but nonetheless, here they are: Employment was up 113,000 in July (sorry, got my numbers mixed up) down just 155,000, seasonally adjusted, according to the household survey. And in case you don’t trust those seasonal adjustments, it was up 229,000 unadjusted. So hooray for that.

Update: The charts are done!