7 Fascinating Nuggets From Another Bewildering Jobs Report

The first Friday of each month just keeps getting weirder.

The two numbers you'll hear today from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' two jobs surveys are 113,000 jobs added in January and 6.6 percent unemployment. 

The first number (from the payroll survey) is ugly: In a recovery like this, you want to hover around 200k jobs added per month. In the last two months, we've added less than half that—about 94k. Maybe it's the weather. Maybe it's something else. We'll know when, well, the weather changes.

The second number (from the household survey) isn't so ugly: The unemployment rate continues to fall because hundreds of thousands people are finding jobs. The household survey didn't estimate that 113k were created. It estimated that 616k new jobs were created. 

Which survey is more right? As always, we'll know when we have more data. And, speaking of data, here are 7 more interesting nuggets from the report.

1. Here Come the Houses: January saw more new construction jobs than any month since February 2006.

2. Barnes and Noble Killing the Economy?: "Sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores" lost 22,000 jobs in January. Since two Barnes and Nobles within walking distance of my apartment have closed recently, I'm choosing to blame the "book" subcategory.

3. "Part-Time America" Is a Myth: In the last year, full-time employment has increased by 1.8 million. Part-time jobs are up just 8,000. According to the household survey, the number of people working part-time for economic reasons fell by a whopping 514,000. So much for the Obamacare effect. (h/t Ben Casselman

4. Austerity's Back?: Total government lost 29k jobs in a month. Government jobs—federal, state, a local—now make up the smallest share of the labor force since 2001 (h/t Annalyn Kurtz).

5. Whither Health Care: 2013 was the slowest year for health-care job growth since 1999. December was the first month on record that health care employment actually declined.

6. Crashing Unemployment Rate: The unemployment rate fell 1.3 percentage-points in the last 12 months. It fell just 0.3 points in the previous year. The cause has been a mix of new jobs (higher numerator) and more labor force exists (lower denominator).

7. What's Going on With Non-College Grads?: The unemployment rate for people with just a high-school degree fell from 7.1 to 6.5 percent ... in one month. That's unbelievable. As in, literally, not something to be believed, on its face. The BLS numbers are here, and they reveal some funky happenings among high-school grads.

  • The labor force is declining.
  • The number of people with jobs is declining.
  • The number of people without jobs is declining.

Look, maybe HS-grads are a dying breed because more people are going to college. Indeed, the college-grad labor force grew by several hundred thousand. But 0.6 percentage points is just a remarkably bold month-over-month figure. 

Which brings us to our monthly caveat: One months's data is just one month's data: nasty, brutish, and often short-lived.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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