Good Signs (and Bad): April Unemployment Numbers

Commentators scramble to decode the figures

This article is from the archive of our partner .

April unemployment numbers are out--and they're confusing. The economy added 290,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate actually rose to 9.9%. How is this possible, and does this mean the economy is doing well or poorly? Luckily, the economics and policy bloggers are all over this one:

  • Why Unemployment Rose as Jobs were Added  "What you're seeing here is an artifact of the way we calculate unemployment," explains veteran wonk-translator Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. "The unemployment rate is the percentage of the workforce actively looking for a new job but unable to find one. During long recessions, discouraged workers stop looking." Thus, they're taken out of that percentage. 
We're now adding enough jobs that previously discouraged workers are returning to the labor force to vie for them. But until they actually get one of those jobs, they go from being invisible in the unemployment data to one of the unemployed.
  • Overall, Good  Sure, "an improved climate seems to be pulling some people back into the labor force," leading to so-so unemployment numbers, argues liberal blogger Matt Yglesias, but "short-term blips aside, the point is that these are the kind of numbers that, if consistently posted, will get us on track to full employment." He shakes his head over the rate of improvement, though--full employment could take a long time unless things speed up.
  • How to Interpret in One Sentence  "So people can view the cracked and damaged glass as half empty (you call them Republicans) or half full (you call them Democrats)," writes Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice.
  • Half Empty, and Not Necessarily Republican  Reuters' Felix Salmon worries about those unemployment numbers: "If we're going to have sustained GDP growth, it’s going to have to come from those figures falling back to acceptable levels: without that happening, we can have a little bit of a rebound, but none of the long-term consumer demand that’s necessary." The fact that the unemployment rise comes from people beginning to look for jobs is "a glimmer of a silver lining," but he points out that "we'll literally never find jobs for all of them: many will never be employed again."
  • Half Full, and Definitely Not Democrat  "The news was mostly good in most sectors," summarizes conservative Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. " For the next several months, that unemployment rate may hide good news as it hid the bad news last year."
  • It's As If All of Texas Were Unemployed  The Atlantic's Derek Thompson rephrases the numbers: the "broader unemployment rate" shows 26 million people unemployed, which is roughly the population of Texas. Meanwhile, the equivalent of the population of New Jersey is being forced to work part-time, while the population of the state of Washington has been unemployed for half a year. The good news: "one of the key measures of economic strength ... is average weekly hours and wages. They're moving, if a little slowly."
  • Wall Street Analysts Pleased  The Wall Street Journal's Phil Izzo gets takes from a variety of business professionals, whose reactions are largely positive. "A recovery is in place and there is no double dip," says John Silvia of Wells Fargo, while Dan Greenhaus of Miller Tabak notes it's "a much better employment report than we expected." Stephen Stanley of Pierpoint Securities calls the report "blow-out strong."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.