Last Friday Sept 4, the Bureau for Labor Statistics released their Employment Report for August 2020. The big surprise was that the unemployment rate fell to 8.4%, a full percent lower than what many analysts had forecasted earlier in the week. Though it is tough to look at this as great news when millions of Americans are still without work, the number of unemployed is currently much lower than most experts had projected it would be just a few months ago.
Not Like the Great Depression or Even the Great Recession
Jason Furman, Professor of Practice at Harvard explained:
“An unemployment rate of 8.4% is much lower than most anyone would have thought it a few months ago. It is still a bad recession but not a historically unprecedented event or one we need to go back to the Great Depression for comparison.”
During the Great Depression, the unemployment rate was over 20% for four consecutive years (1932 – 1935). This April, the rate jumped to 14.7%, but has fallen each month since.
During and after the Great Recession (2007-2009), the unemployment rate was at 9% or greater for thirty consecutive months (April 2009 – October 2011). Most economists believe the current rate will continue to fall monthly as the economy regains its strength.
What Happens Going Forward?
The outcome will be determined by how quickly we can contain the virus. In their last Economic Forecasting Survey, the Wall Street Journal reported the economists surveyed believe the annual unemployment rates will be 6.6% in 2021 and 5.5% in 2022. Though that will still be greater than the 3.5% rate that we saw earlier this year, it is lower than the annual rate reported in 2011 (8.5%), 2012 (7.9%), and 2013 (6.7%).
There are still millions of Americans struggling through this economic downturn. There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. The unemployment situation did not get as bad as many had predicted, and the recovery is taking place faster than most thought would happen.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest Employment Situation Summary last Thursday, and it again beat analysts’ expectations in a big way. The consensus was for 3,074,000 jobs to be added in June. The report revealed that 4,800,000 jobs were added. The unemployment rate fell to 11.1% from 13.3% last month. Again, excellent news as the unemployment rate fell for the second consecutive month. However, there’s still a long way to go before the economy fully recovers as 17.8 million Americans remain unemployed.
Here are two interesting insights on the report:
What about a supposed misclassification?
The BLS addressed this at length in a blog post last week, and concluded by saying:
“Regardless of the assumptions we might make about misclassification, the trend in the unemployment rate over the period in question is the same; the rate increased in March & April and eased in May.”
They specifically noted the issue in the latest report by explaining that if they adjusted the rate for the potential miscalculation, it would increase from 11.1% to 12.1% (which is lower than the adjusted rate of 16.4% last month). They went on to say:
“However, this represents the upper bound of our estimate of misclassification and probably overstates the size of the misclassification error.”
Does the shutdown of parts of the economy skew the unemployment numbers?
Because the uniqueness of 2020 impacts the employment situation in so many ways, each jobs report is now examined with a microscope to make sure the headlines generated by the report accurately convey what’s happening in the job market.
One such analysis is done by Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at Indeed. He believes the extraordinary number of people in the “temporary” unemployed category confuses the broader issue of how many people have permanently lost their job. He adjusts for this when calculating his “core unemployment rate” (which subtracts temporary layoffs and adds unemployed who didn’t search for a job recently).
The bad news is that his analysis reveals that the number of permanently unemployed is still rising (from 4.6% in April to 5.9% last month). The good news, however, is when you use his methodology to look back at the Great Recession, today’s “core unemployment rate” is significantly lower (5.9% versus 10.5% in April 2010).
Last week’s jobs report was much better than most expected. However, we should remain cautious in our optimism. As the Wall Street Journal explained in their analysis of the jobs report:
“U.S. job growth surged last month, underscoring the economy’s capacity for a quick rebound if businesses continue to reopen and consumers regain confidence. A recent coronavirus spike, however, could undermine trends captured in the latest jobs report.”
Last Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released their May Employment Situation Summary. Leading up to the release, most experts predicted the unemployment rate would jump up to approximately 20% from the 14.7% rate announced last month.
The experts were shocked.
The Wall Street Journal put it this way:
“The May U.S. jobless rate fell to 13.3% and employers added 2.5 million jobs, blowing Wall Street expectations out of the water: Economists had forecast a loss of 8.3 million jobs and a 19.5% unemployment rate.”
In addition, CNBC revealed:
“The May gain was by far the biggest one-month jobs surge in U.S. history since at least 1939.”
Here are some of the job gains by sector:
- Food Service and Bartenders – 1,400,000
- Construction – 464,000
- Education and Health Services – 424,000
- Retail – 368,000
- Other Services – 272,000
- Manufacturing – 225,000
- Professional Services – 127,000
There’s still a long way to go before the economy fully recovers, as 21 million Americans remain unemployed. That number is down, however, from 23 million just last month. And, of the 21 million in the current report, 73% feel their layoff is temporary. This aligns with a recent Federal Reserve Bank report that showed employers felt 75% of the job losses are temporary layoffs and furloughs.
The Employment Situation Summary was definitely a pleasant surprise, and evidence that the country’s economic turnaround is underway. The data also offers a labor-market snapshot from mid-May, when the government conducted its monthly survey of households and businesses. Many states did not open for business until the second half of May. This bodes well for next month’s jobs report.
We cannot rejoice over a report that reveals millions of American families are still without work. We can, however, feel relieved that we are headed in the right direction, and much more quickly than most anticipated.