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America’s Labor Market by the Numbers

NEWPORT BEACH – Politicians and economists now join investors in a ritual that typically takes place on the first Friday of each month and has important consequences for global markets: anticipating, internalizing, and reacting to the monthly employment report released by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Over the last few years, the report has evolved in a significant way – not only providing an assessment of the economy’s past and current state, but, increasingly, containing insights into its future as well.

Think of the BLS’s employment report as a comprehensive monthly check-up for the American labor market. Among its many interesting statistics, it tells you how many jobs are created and where; how earnings and hours worked are evolving; and the number, age, and education of those seeking employment.

Despite the data’s richness, only two indicators consistently attract widespread attention: net monthly job creation (which amounted to 169,000 in August) and the unemployment rate (7.3% in August, the lowest since December 2008). Together they point to a gradual and steady improvement in overall labor-market conditions.

This is certainly good news. It is not long ago that job creation was negative and the unemployment rate stood at 10%. The problem is that the headline numbers shed only partial light on what may lie ahead.