As many have pointed out for months, the expanded version of the unemployment rate has been well above 15% for quite a long time, and it at least occasionally gets referenced in media reports and political pronouncements.
But on the jobs added/lost front, what the press, pundits, and even opposition politicians are continuing to ignore is the key information that leads to the "seasonally adjusted" figure on which everyone seems to fixate -- to the point where it's not unreasonable to believe that almost everyone in America believes that 36,000 jobs lost is what really occurred during the month.
It isn't. Acknowledging that, and seeing what really did happen, is key to understanding that February's result really reflected a significant deterioration in the employment situation, not an improvement.
Here are the charts for 2004 through February 2010, first for not seasonally adjusted (NSA) jobs, followed by seasonally adjusted jobs:
The NSA table tells us that the government's best estimate of what really happened in February is that the economy added 473,000 jobs. Absent any other data, that would seem to be acceptable. But when you look at data for previous years, you can quickly tell that it's not.
Excluding February 2009, when the economy was in free-fall, February 2010's +473,000 is the worst performance listed above. The average for 2004-2008 is +714,000, or 241,000 jobs better. In February 2008, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the country was supposedly in the third month of a recession (even though economic growth overall was positive). Why should we be impressed that February 2010's economy couldn't even match that?
Beyond that, February's performance represented a decay from January's. January is a month when many Christmas seasonal employees get let go. The average job loss for January 2004-2008 of 2,770,000 was only 72,000 better than January revised 2010 number of -2,842,000. Thus, February 2010 was 169,000 jobs worse than January (241,000 vs. 72,000).
This is something to get excited about?
That leaves one mystery, which is this: Why was February 2010's SA loss of 36,000 an improvement over 2008's SA loss of 50,000? One would think that February 2010 should have come in worse. The answer is that 2009 was so bad, that it's distorting the SA calculation -- to the point where it's really not as reliable an indicator of what is going on as it normally would be in a more predictable situation. Additionally, BLS tells me that while it takes the previous five years into account, the more recent years carry more weight in the calculation of the final SA number than the least recent years.
These are things that establishment media business reporters should know. If they don't, they should either get a quick catch-up course or find another line of work. Media outlets, especially the wire services, should be adjusting their routine jobs reports to tell us the kinds of things this post has revealed.
It's not that tough. Why won't they?
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.