Why don't American workers feel that the labor market is on the mend? After all, the May 6 jobs report could suggest that the labor market is improving. Nonfarm employment rose by 244,000 and employment growth over the last three months is averaging over 200,000 per month. With unemployment at 9%, employment is still down many millions from where it should be, but up from its recession lows.
The fact is the jobs numbers that create so much anticipation from the business press and so many pundit pronouncements do not give a clear picture of the labor market's health. A better understanding requires an examination of hires and separations, or what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data. Here are some surprising facts:
First, the increase in job growth that occurred over the past two years results from a decline in the number of layoffs, not from increased hiring. In February 2009, a month during which the labor market lost more than 700,000 jobs, employers hired four million workers. In March 2011, employers hired four million workers. The number of hires is the same today as it was when we were shedding jobs at record rates.