Employment report: The (slow) improvement continues

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The big headline from the August jobs report released this morning will probably be that the unemployment rate rose to 9.7% (from 9.4% in July). But as I’ve written before, the better month-to-month measure of the state of the job market is the change in nonfarm payroll employment, and that showed modest improvement—or more accurately, a continued decline in the pace at which things are getting worse—with a loss of 216,000 jobs for the month.

It’s still a bad, seriously recessionary number, but a lot better than the 500,000+ monthly losses that we saw from November through April. Job losses for June and July were both revised upward (463,000 in June, 276,000 in July). So the fact that this month’s 216,000 decline was less than forecasters expected was pretty much meaningless. But at least the trajectory looks good.

Health care was the only sector with significant job gains, but lots of others—retail, professional and business services, transportation and warehousing, leisure and hospitality—have now gone from big losses to a mere trickle. Manufacturing and construction were the two big losers. And government employment was virtually unchanged.

It’s basically a report that that doesn’t really contradict the hopeful story-line that the recovery will be at hand soon, but won’t convince any doubters either.