Friday, November 4, 2011

Is October's Unemployment Rate Really 12.7%?

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

The BLS released its non-farm payroll figures for October today and they stated that 80,000 jobs were created and that the U.S. unemployment rate was 9.0%. There are reasons to believe that this number is actually as high as 12.7%.

Except for February and March of this year, the unemployment rate (the U-3 number) has been 9.0% or higher since May 2009. It hasn't risen well into the double digits because large numbers of workers have supposedly left the labor force and these people are not counted as unemployed. If we go back four years to just before the Great Recession began, we find that in October 2007 there were 145,937,000 employed Americans over 16 and 79,506,000 were not in the labor force. Now in October 2011, there are 140,302,000 employed people and 86,071,000 not in the labor force. You can see the figures here:

So in the last four years the American economy has had a net loss of 5,635,000 jobs. This huge loss hasn't shown up in an escalating unemployment rate because at the same time a net 6,565,000 people have supposedly left the labor force. The BLS conveniently does not count them as unemployed even though they do not have jobs. If we included them in the unemployment calculations, the unemployment rate for October would be 12.7%. This should not be confused with the underemployment rate (known as U-6) which includes people working part-time, but who want full-time jobs. This number was 16.2% last month.

A case could be made that the U.S. labor force should be shrinking because more people are retiring than there are graduating students. There are approximately 3.5 million people reaching age 65 (not all of whom retire and many of whom didn't work) and only about 3.2 million students graduating high school currently (eventually most of them enter the labor force). While retirees have the advantage, there are also approximately a net 1.3 million immigrants coming into the U.S. every year and a disproportionate number of them are younger adults of employment age. The labor force should at least be steady, if not growing slowly. Instead, BLS figures indicate a rapid shrinkage is taking place.

It would be highly unusual for the labor force to decline at all during a recovery. When the economy is strong, people on the margins go out looking for jobs. For the labor force to drop by millions indicates an extremely weak economy.  So, if the U.S. labor force has six and a half million fewer workers than it did four years ago, no significant recovery has taken place. If the labor force hasn't dropped by as much as the BLS claims, then the unemployment rate is in the double digits and this also indicates no significant recovery has taken place. While it seems more likely than the true unemployment rate is closer to 13% than 9%, either figure indicates that the U.S. economy is still recessionary.

Disclosure: None

Daryl Montgomery
Author: "Inflation Investing - A Guide for the 2010s"
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.