5 Hopeful Signs in the January Jobs Report


Unemployment Trends Chart

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The U.S. economy added 243,000 jobs in January, beating expectations by about 100,000 jobs, and pushing the unemployment rate down 0.2 percentage points to 8.3%. Even beyond these baseline improvements, there are plenty of reasons to be happy with the latest jobs report.

Employment-to-Population Rate Rises

While the unemployment rate is the standard measurement people look to when assessing the strength of the labor market, it doesn’t take into account those who are perfectly able and willing to work but have given up looking for jobs. For that, the best number to turn to is the employment-to-population ratio, which takes into account all working-age adults. The percentage of the population that was employed stood at 58.5%, an increase of 0.1% from the same month in 2011. That may not seem like much of an improvement, but during that time, the population has increased by roughly 3.5 million, which means more than that many jobs have been created to keep the employment rate steady.

The Underemployment Rate Drops

Another way to view the health of the labor market is to consider the underemployment rate, which takes into account not only those who are unemployed but those who are only partly employed for economic reasons. That number stood at 15.1% in January, which is certainly still high, but a full percentage point less than what it was the same time one year before.

Construction and Manufacturing Booms

Construction and manufacturing were two of the hardest-hit industries in the recession, but the most recent jobs numbers suggest they are on the mend. The construction industry added 21,000 jobs in January after having added 31,000 the month before. Manufacturing had an even more striking increase, adding 50,000 positions in January.

More Jobs Added in Previous Months

As if the January jobs numbers weren’t good enough, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also issued a revision for the two previous months showing even greater job gains. The new numbers show that there were 203,000 jobs added in December, up from 200,000 originally, and 157,000 jobs added in November, up from 100,000 originally. That’s 60,000 more jobs we didn’t even know we had.

Hourly Earnings Increased

Hourly earnings rose by 4 cents in January to $23.29. That may not be enough to buy a new house, but every pay increase gives the consumer a little more spending power, which in turn fuels the economic recovery.

Looking for a job right now? Find out the five things you shouldn’t mention in an interview so you can land a new gig.

Seth Fiegerman is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by e-mail at seth.fiegerman@thestreet.com, or follow him on Twitter @sfiegerman.

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