U.S. Employment: October Gains Wipe Out Bad September

The first Friday of the month is here again, and it brings with it the jobs report for the preceding month from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. Whereas last month's report came off somewhat gloomy and dismal, this one's got some rainbows around it, and shows some glimmers of promise for economic growth.


Ed T Figure 1 11 03 2017


For starters, the unemployment rate is down to 4.1 percent. The last time such a paltry percentage of people were out of work was in December 2000, prior to the dot-com bust and Sept. 11. In fact, this rate is the lowest of any reported in the last decade (2007 through 2017). In addition, numbers for August and September were both revised upward by an aggregate of 90,000 jobs.


August's lackadaisical 169,000 was restated at a more brisk and typical 208,000. September's absolutely awful loss of 33,000 jobs (thanks mostly to hurricanes Harvey and Irma, according to most labor economists) turned into a miniscule, but still positive, gain of 18,000 jobs.


Interestingly, low unemployment and decent levels of job growth haven't yet translated into appreciable wage growth. In fact, wages actually declined by one cent an hour for October. That puts average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls at $26.53.


For the past 12-month period, while wage growth has managed to outpace inflation (which stands at 2.2 percent for the period from October 2016 through September 2017), it is not exactly cracking along at only 2.4 percent. The miniscule 0.2 percent difference doesn't put enough added income into workers' pockets for them to notice much, if any, improvement.


As expected, employment in food services and drinking places jumped sharply in October, with 89,000 jobs added. This reverses most of the drop of 98,000 for September, when so many workers were idled by the big storms and their aftermaths. Professional and business services continues their steady growth, with 50,000 jobs added for the month.


The following two sectors also experienced modest but noteworthy gains: manufacturing (+24,000) and health care (+22,000). Other sectors — including our home sector, Information — were more or less flat for October.


Guy on phone with laptop excited

A closer look at the information sector shows that its unemployment rate has dropped, as has its count of unemployed persons. In October 2016, this sector claimed 114,000 unemployed with an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent. For October 2017, those numbers decline to 105,000 unemployed and 3.9 percent. That puts sector size for last year at 2.78 million, and sector size for this year at 2.69 million.


Thus, the number of jobs in IT"s home sector has also declined to the tune of 90,000 jobs over the same time period. But Information is not the only sector wherein IT people work: CompTIA estimates that as many jobs in IT fall outside the sector as fall within it.


They see IT jobs up in the areas of hardware (computer, electronics and semiconductor manufacturing, +4,700), Data processing and hosting (+1,100), other info services, including portals (+200), and in IT and software services/computer systems design (+3,700).


Telecommunications offsets that total gain of 9,700 jobs with a loss of 5,000 jobs for a net sector gain of 4,700 jobs for October. That's a bit better for the month than it has been for a while, but not enough to set anybody's world on fire.


All this said, we're seeing a few more positive signs of economic growth in the data in the last month's numbers. The long term trend of slow, steady growth continues, but the pace appears to be picking up a tiny bit and to have shaken off the downward blip that the hurricanes left behind.


Here's hoping that the oncoming holiday season sends a tide that lifts all boats, and the economy, into a stronger situation for 2018.


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About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.