The seasonally adjusted 203,000 job gain the BLS reported for November was revised to 241,000. The October figures were unrevised at 200,000.
The surprising level of job growth is likely to have the experts in a quandary, especially given that Automated Data Processing on Wednesday had reported a gain of 238,000 private-sector jobs for December.
One thing for certain, the BLS report puts a crimp in the steady drumbeat of the assessments that the economy is finally set to grow substantially in 2014 after 54 months of tepid growth since the Great Recession officially ended. For millions of jobless Americans, or those who can't find full-time work, that official assessment is a joke.
The bureau makes several alternative calculations—the key one labeled U6—to estimate how many workers have given up looking for up to 12 months but still want one, as well as those Americans working part-time even though they want full-time jobs—the underemployed. U6 held steady at 13.1 percent in December. U6 does not include workers who have not looked for a job for more than a year. Those workers are no longer considered part of the labor force even if they still want jobs.
The December drop in the civilian labor force came after a rise of 455,000 in November. The employment-population ratio remained steady at 58.6 percent. The labor force participation rate fell from 63 percent to 62.8 percent.
The number of officially unemployed Americans is now 10.4 million. That tally leaves out millions of discouraged workers who have given up looking for employment. The number of long-term unemployed, those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more, fell to 3.9 million. They make up 37.7 percent of the total unemployed. As noted last month:
While the situation has improved significantly in the past five years in overall jobs, the quality of many of those jobs leaves a good deal to be desired. Measured in "real" dollars, that is, inflation-adjusted dollars, the median wage of $27,519 in 2012 was $980 less than in 2007 when the Great Recession began. In fact, the median fell by $4 between 2011 and 2012. In fact, the median wage as measured by the Social Security Administration is at the 1998 level.
Here are the official seasonally adjusted unemployment rates in December for:
African Americans—11.9 percent
Asian Americans—4.1 percent (not seasonally adjusted)
American Indians—Not counted on a monthly basis
Among other news in the October job report:
• Professional services: + 19,000
• Transportation and warehousing : minus 600
• Leisure & hospitality: + 9,000
• Health care: - 1,000
• Retail trade: + 55,300
• Construction: - 16,000
• Manufacturing: + 9,000
• Average weekly manufacturing hours remained at 41 hours.
• Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose 2 cents from November's revised figure to $24.17
• Average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees rose 3 cents to $20.35
Here's what the seasonally adjusted job growth numbers have looked like in December for the previous 10 years.
December 2003: + 119,000
December 2004: + 128,000
December 2005: + 158,000
December 2006: + 169,000
December 2007: + 93,000
December 2008: - 705,000
December 2009: - 220,000
December 2010: + 95,000
December 2011: + 230,000
December 2012: + 219,000
December 2013: + 74,000
The BLS jobs report is the product of a pair of surveys, one of more than 410,000 business establishments called Current Employment Statistics, and one called the Current Population Survey, which questions 60,000 householders each month. The establishment survey determines how many new jobs were added. It is always calculated on a seasonally adjusted basis determined by a frequently tweaked formula. The BLS report only provides a snapshot of what's happening at a single point in time.
It's important to understand that the jobs-created-last-month-numbers that it reports are not "real." Not because of a conspiracy, but because statisticians apply formulas to the raw data, estimate the number of jobs created by the "birth" and "death" of businesses, and use other filters to fine-tune the numbers. And, always good to remember, in the fine print, they tell us that the actual number of newly created jobs reported is actually plus or minus 100,000.