he professional journalists who report on the employment statistics each month, breathlessly updating us on jobs gained and lost as though our future depends on it, get paid, by and large, a pretty good buck. You'd think they could work a little harder at putting nuance into their news. Kind of reminds you of Ollie the Weatherman for "Channel 5 Action News" on
Below: typical jobs report news leads from the last five months of the year.
April’s expected hiring boom goes bust: nonfarm payroll gain well short of estimates
In May employers added 559,000 jobs. In ordinary times, a blockbuster hiring burst for one month (ABC)
The U.S. added 850,000 jobs in June, vs 706,000 estimate: businesses looking to keep up with a rapidly recovering U.S. economy (CNBC)
Employers added 943,000 jobs in July, with restaurants and bars leading the way: Bbest performance in nearly a year (NY Times)
August jobs report: America added only 235,000 jobs in month: far fewer jobs than expected (CNN)
A more nuanced telling, with a longer-lens/time perspective, might simply be, "Slow but steady recovery following sharp pandemic contraction." Who cares about how we did against the estimates? Maybe the guys making the estimates are no good at their jobs either.
Besides, the whole month-to-month reporting mindset ignores the fact that after the first-month collapse, monthly numbers were almost all positive. Only a rare down-month or two for the overall job market even if it wasn't what optimists kept referring to as the "V-shaped" recovery.
Hardly a big surprise. What would you expect with a pandemic we obviously were totally unprepared to deal with. Smooth sailing? At the risk of crashing metaphors, it was a good bit more than a bad dream that fades with opening day. Not back on top in a month or two? That was the real dream. With the way we report job numbers, we make the monthly rate of job increases the enemy of the job growth itself.
But even that bit of nuance is not nearly nuanced enough. Most job sectors were not that severely affected by the COVID meltdown. The impact was pretty steep and choppy in leisure and entertainment, but other sectors? They took an initial hit but recovered rather smoothly and steadily if not spectacularly swiftly.
The drama in jobs was contained mainly in leisure and entertainment because people couldn't travel, for business or pleasure. Vegas was very unhappy. And restaurants couldn't seat patrons, and when they could, they couldn't find kitchen or dining room help to serve them. The airlines and the subways took a beating. (Hospital workers entered into hell.) The financial services industry had no such problems, as the numbers bear out. Sales might have slipped, but jobs and working conditions were not the issue.
Jobs Lost and Recovered, Jan. 20-Aug. 21
||Recovered to Date
From a distance, job performance graphs look pretty similar from sector to sector. All pretty much just like the "All Employees" graph above. But appearance is belied by differences in raw numbers and month-to-month growth rates from one sector and another. Most particularly, the leisure and entertainment scene has gotten a visibly rougher ride for the reasons noted above. It really all boils down to this. It's the sector where the most people are most likely to come together, en masse, breathing heavy. And when, and where, that happens, people get sick and disease metrics spike.
But the big number is the big news, so that's what gets reported each month. And always against expectations. Can't blame them, just doing their jobs. Scares the bejesus out of the horses and cattle though. And roller coaster headlines really don't paint a clear picture of how well or poorly the jobs scene is remediating itself. An incautions person could be drawn to erroneous conclusions.
What's a body to do? Probably not pay undue homage to aggregated monthly jobs reporting. It is what it is, as the mob is fond of saying. Keep an eye on the restaurants and hospital utilization rates. When those figures turn, up, down or sidewise, that will tell you where we're really headed. Those headlines? They're just for fun. Oh, and get vaccinated. What are you thinking?