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5 million jobs and counting

The economy has generated about 5 million new jobs since early 2010. The pace of jobs growth has been disappointing, but it has been relatively steady. More importantly—since the market is still very fearful of another recession—there are no signs here of any emerging weakness. Private sector jobs growth is decent, but not strong enough to result in any meaningful decline in the unemployment rate, which remains high. 

This chart shows the total number of jobs according to the Establishment and the Household Surveys. Both are showing a net gain of about 5 million jobs since early 2010. That works out to a little over 150,000 jobs per month on average.

This chart of the labor force (those who are working plus those who are looking for work) shows that it tends to grow about 1% per year. One salient feature of the current recovery is the lack of growth in the labor force—the result of approximately 7 million people apparently deciding to "give up" looking for a job. However, in the past year the labor force has resumed its trend growth rate of 1% per year and has reached a new high. On the margin this is a modest positive, since it reflects increased optimism and a more dynamic workforce.

If the 7 million people who have given up looking for work should decide to get back in the hunt, the unemployment rate would jump to something like 12%. Most of the decline in the unemployment rate during this recovery is due to the unprecedented number of people who have dropped out of the labor force.

This chart shows only private sector employment, by excluding the 20-22 million people who are employed by various levels of the public sector. Note how much more volatile the household survey is. On average, both surveys are saying the same thing, and they are consistent with an economy that is growing at a 2-3% pace. That growth rate can be decomposed into 1.5-2% jobs growth and 1% productivity growth. Nothing to write home about, but neither is it something to disparage.

This chart compares private sector to public sector jobs. This recovery has seen a substantial decline in public sector jobs (about 600K), but the declining trend appears to have stalled. Public sector jobs are flat year to date. This suggests that state and local governments have managed to bring their expenses more into line with their revenues, and that is another positive change on the margin.

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