January employment numbers keep on keepin' on
As I was listening to the news this morning, various employment analysts expressed some worries that the recent plunge in oil prices would lead to enough layoffs to bring overall employment numbers down. A representative from placement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas estimated that as many as 20,000 to 25,000 layoffs in or related to the "oil patch" had probably occurred in January.
But the numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics don't bear that out, showing approximately 257,000 new jobs added for the month of January. With 2015 thus off to a solid start, we must conclude that there was enough growth in other sectors to make up for these losses, and to keep the trend of slow growth in motion. Let's take a closer look:
On the macro side, overall labor force participation showed an increase of 0.2 percent, which translates into a hefty increase of 703,000 in the civilian labor force, offsetting an equal dip (minus 0.2 percent) for December of last year. Total employment as measured by the monthly household survey — a different survey instrument than the one used for employment, which surveys businesses and other employers — registered an increase in total employment of 435,000.
Those same results, however, saw the employment-to-population ratio — the ratio of employed persons to the overall population — nearly unaltered at 59.3 percent. And that's still a little bit on the low side as a measure of vigorously growing economy.
Where did January's growth occur? Surprisingly, the retail sector — which normally sees a dip after the holiday shopping season comes to a close in January — posted gains of 46,000 jobs. Construction added 39,000 jobs: unusually vigorous given that building often slows down in mid-winter.
Health care employment — no surprises there — posted a 38,000 uptick for January, financial services were up by 26,000, manufacturing by 22,000, professional and technical services by 33,000, and food service/drinking establishments by 35,000. So much for the plus side of things.
Looking into Table A-14, the Information sector (which, generally speaking, includes technology jobs), we see substantial improvements in unemployment, but only small job growth. In January 2014, 196,000 persons in information were unemployed which equaled 6.6 percent unemployment.
This January, 128,000 persons were unemployed, for a rate of 4.4 percent unemployment. The former figure translates into 29.7 million total information workers in the workforce for January 2014; the latter figure produces a somewhat smaller overall 29.1 million total information workers, or a loss of 800,000 jobs in that sector over the intervening year.
If jobs are down but unemployment is likewise falling, then surely that indicates increasing pressure to hire more information sector workers in 2015? A 4.4 percent rate is less than the 5-6 percent range that most economists say represents "full employment." Let's hope businesses and organizations read those tea leaves the same way I do, and start planning to increase headcounts in IT this year.
Overall, the numbers seem to indicate that the economy continues its trend of slow but steady growth. Nearly seven years on from the "great recession of 2008," it's still not time to break out the party hats and champagne. If slow and steady really does win this race, then when, oh when, will it finally be time to declare victory and do the happy dance? I wish I could tell!