As soon as this morning's job report came out, the BLS server crashed--presumably from the flood of people who were trying to find out whether they still had a job. The headline numbers came across the wire, but anguished pundits were unable to drill down into the details. With only a 117,000 headline increase in payrolls to work with--above expectations, but below the level needed to absorb new population growth, much less make a dent in the unemployment rate--the BLS server crash seemed like a good metaphor for the economy.
It's not good, mind you. Though the unemployment rate dropped slightly, to 9.1% from 9.2%, so did the labor force participation rate, so at least some of that improvement seems to have been from discouraged workers leaving the labor force. The number of marginally attached workers (people who want work, but have given up looking for it because they don't think they'll find a job) was essentially unchanged. So was the number of people involuntarily working part time because they can't find a full time job.
But there was a lot of worry from pundits that 117,000 jobs wasn't even enough to absorb population growth. 154,000 jobs were created in the private sector, but the government lost 37,000 jobs. So on net, it seems, we lost a little bit of ground.
However, it turns out that 23,000 of those lost government jobs were in state government, and according to the BLS almost all of those were due to Minnesota's shutdown. I'm going to assume that eventually, Minnesota restores all of those jobs, which means that we made more progress than it seems.
Of course, it wasn't much progress--mostly we're just treading water. On the other hand, we're not drowning. And as Eddy Elfenbein noted this morning on twitter, except for the ISM report, all the really bad data was from June, while this is a July report. It's possible that June was a blip, and now we're back on our lackluster-but-at-least-not-moving-backwards growth path.
That's thin comfort, especially since the mess in Europe will slam our economic growth if it blows up--as now seems likely. But these days, I'll take any comfort at all.
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is a columnist at Bloomberg View
and a former senior editor at The Atlantic.
Her new book is The Up Side of Down