Friday, April 6, 2012

The Only Suprise for March Employment Was that it Wasn't Even Worse

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.

According to the BLS, the U.S. created only 120,000 non-farm jobs in March. The mainstream media cited this figure as a surprise because it was well below expectations. The real surprise was that the number wasn't even worse.

Winter month employment numbers came in at the 200,000 level and this was trumpeted as evidence that the economy was finally gaining steam. There were two problems will this line of reasoning. The first is that the U.S. needs to create approximately 150,000 jobs a month for the unemployment rate to stay even (this balances the loss of people retiring with new students and legal immigrants entering the job market).  In order to put any serious dent in the massive amount of unemployment that exists the monthly number of jobs being created needs to be well over 200,000. The second problem was the unusually warm weather during the winter that magnified the impact of the seasonal adjustments.

If seasonal adjustments boosted the numbers in January and February, then lower numbers should be expected in the normally warmer spring months. The weak March number seems to be bearing this out. It is interesting to note that the Retail Trade category lost 34,000 jobs in March. This does not support the idea that retail sales have actually been strong as has been claimed, but that the numbers have instead been artificially boosted by inflation. Retail employment is prone to large swings due to seasonal factors.

The official unemployment rate fell to 8.2% from 8.3%. The obvious question is how can this happen if less than 150,000 jobs were created and that's the amount needed for things to remain in equilibrium? It can only occur if more people than expected leave the labor market. This happened again last month  as has been the case during the entire economic "recovery"(millions of people have left the U.S labor market since the Great Recession began). The mass exodus from the labor market creates a huge reservoir of unemployed waiting to reenter the market if conditions actually improve. This reentry could keep the unemployment rate from falling well into the decade.

People of course do not leave the labor market in droves when the economy is on an upswing. The continued shrinkage of the labor market indicates an economic downturn. Don't expect to hear that from either the U.S. government or the cheerleading mainstream media. Politicians don't get reelected by telling the public bad news.

A key question that usually goes unexamined in reporting about the jobs numbers is the high price the U.S. taxpayer and consumer will be paying in the future for the jobs being created today. The U.S. has run deficits of $1.3 trillion or more since 2009. Pumping all of that money into the economy will of course create jobs, but at what cost?  Unless there is a free lunch, that money will have to be paid back either through higher taxes or higher inflation. Both will lead to lower job creation in the coming years.

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.

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