Why the Rising Unemployment Numbers Aren't All Bad

The unemployment rate in August jumped 0.3 percentage points to 9.7 percent. That's bad. It's the worst unemployment rate since 1983, and the economy has now bled more than 7 million jobs since December 2007. But inside the numbers, there are some interesting observations. Let's take a look under the hood:

healthedgov.png1) Health Care Wins, Again. Yes, the economy is still losing jobs at about a 200K/month clip. But are any sectors actually gaining jobs? Yes, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and August's winner is no surprise, because it's the same hybrid sector that's been picking up jobs for the last decade: Health and education (see right, from Michael Mandel). Health care employment continues to rise and has added more than half a million jobs since December 2007, which the rest of the economy has lost 7 million.

2) The Mancession. It's been well reported that this recession has hit men especially hard. Here's a snapshot of the male-dominated industries of Mining, Construction and Manufacturing from August 2008 to August 2009. Unemployment in Mining/Quarrying/Gas extraction has soared from 1.9 percent to 11.8 percent. Both Construction and Manufacturing have doubled to 16.5 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively. Those numbers are not seasonally adjusted, but they help paint a picture of a recession that has devastated male-dominated industries.

3) We Beat Expectations! But... Job losses in August (216K) were better than Dow Jones analysts feared (233K). That's good! But the BLS also revised job losses from June and July, and added 50,000 additional payroll cuts. That's bad.

4) Unemployment Went Up, But Job Losses Went Down? My compadre Dan Individiglio is already getting flack for suggesting that a 0.3 percentage point increase in unemployment has silver linings. But I think he's right! Job losses actually eased in August. Payrolls lost 276,000 in July, and the unemployment rate went down by 0.1 percentage point. We lost only (excuse my liberal use of "only"!) 216,000 last month and the rate jumped by 0.3 percentage points. Discouraged workers are also down, which might indicate that more Americans are seeing opportunities for work.