A look at the latest DOL employment report

Great for some, good for most, no help for others

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor, reported on Dec. 5 that non-farm payroll employment increased by 321,000 in November, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.8 percent. The headline numbers tell us part of a story about job growth, but the report also provided many other unemployment rates and other interesting data.

Over the last year, the unemployment rate is down from 7.0 percent and the number of unemployed is down by 1.7 million. The December report was considerably better then what was expected, and has provided further proof that the "Great Recession" is well behind us. The strength of the report also allows for the hope that the slow but steady pace of the economic expansion may have developed sufficient momentum to lead to more robust growth in the future.

While the 5.8 percent unemployment rate received most of the attention, there are in fact many other unemployment rates that provide us with valuable information. For example for those over 20 years of age, the unemployment rate is 5.4 percent for men and 5.3 percent among women. For teenagers it is a much higher 17.7 percent.

For whites, the unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, for African-Americans it is 11.1 percent, for Asians it is 4.8 percent and for Hispanics it is 6.6 percent.

What your education level is has a significant impact on your unemployment rate. Not surprisingly, the more education the lower the unemployment rate. For those over age 25, the overall unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, but for those with a bachelor's degree or better it is 3.2 percent, those with some college had a rate of 4.9 percent, those with a high school degree it is 5.6 percent and for those with less than a high school diploma the unemployment rate is 8.5 percent.

Where you live also has an impact on employment prospects. The West currently has the highest regional unemployment rate at 6.5 percent, while the Midwest has the lowest at 5.6 percent. Among states, Georgia has the highest unemployment rate at 7.7 percent, while North Dakota has the lowest at 2.8 percent.

In New York, the unemployment rate is 5.7 percent, slightly below the national rate. Over the last year the unemployment rate in New York fell from 7.3 percent to 5.7 percent, while the national rate dropped from 7.0 percent to 5.8 percent. Thus New York went from a higher than the national rate of unemployment to one lower than the national rate over the last year.

Within New York, the employment picture also varies from county to county. Monroe County currently has an unemployment rate of 5.6 percent, slightly under the overall New York rate and the overall U.S. rate. Bronx County has the highest unemployment rate in New York at 9.0 percent, while Tomkins County has the lowest at 3.9 percent.

Another factor which can be significant is how long a person has been out of work. The longer, presumably, the harder on the person and the lower their future job prospects become. Over the last year nationally, the number of unemployed dropped from 10.8 million to 9.1 million a drop of 16 percent; among those who have been unemployed for over 27 weeks, the drop was from 4.0 million to 2.8 million, a drop of 30 percent. While some may have been discouraged and dropped out of the labor force, the drop in those who have been long-term unemployed is still very significant.

In a vibrant economy, short-term unemployment is to be expected and even encouraged as people move from one job to another. Labor mobility allows for movement away from declining industries and areas to growing industries and geographical areas. Longer term unemployment causes more pain both to the individual and to the economy as a whole.

While all numbers can be interpreted in many ways, it seems clear our economy is growing and providing more opportunity than was the case a few years ago. The data show that education, besides its many non-economic advantages, also helps one avoid unemployment. They also indicate for those that do not have strong ties to an area that they might do better moving from high unemployment areas to low unemployment areas. A young person unemployed in Georgia might consider moving to North Dakota where jobs are plentiful. In Williams County, North Dakota (oil boom area), there are currently nine jobs for every job seeker compared to an estimated one job for every four job seekers nationally.

The monthly employment report provides an enormous amount of information beyond simply the national unemployment rate and the number of new jobs the economy has produced. It tells us much about trends in the job market, industries and areas where job growth is above and below the average. For individuals and business owners, looking for careers, places to live, or where to start a business or office, this report can be quite helpful.

Published: Fri, Dec 12, 2014