ALFREDO ORTIZ: Here’s Why The Economy Isn’t Out Of The Woods Just Yet
Friday’s jobs report is not the home run that Democrats and the mainstream media claim. In their rush to champion topline job creation, they overlook how the jobs report is actually made up of two surveys. And the other doesn’t look so good, though it’s far more reflective of the economic reality facing ordinary Americans and small businesses.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys business establishments and households each month to generate its report on labor market conditions. The establishment survey of payrolls produces the monthly job creation number the media is quick to champion. Yet even the BLS admits the household survey is “more expansive” because it also measures self-employed workers and those employed privately in households. This survey produces the unemployment rate.
For years, these surveys have tracked each other in terms of employment growth, as you’d expect. However, beginning in mid-2022, they began to diverge, with the payroll survey showing far more job creation than the household survey. Over the last year, the payroll survey finds 2.9 million jobs have been created, while the household survey reveals only 1.1 million new jobs.
In stark contrast to the 353,000 jobs created in the payroll survey, the household survey shows employment actually declined by 31,000 last month. Full-time jobs declined by 63,000. That’s a far cry from today’s headlines about a booming economy.
These household survey numbers are in line with other anecdotal and empirical data. On Thursday, the job placement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas reported a historic 82,300 layoffs in January. This week, UPS announced 12,000 layoffs. Major companies such as Zerox, Spotify, and Hasbro have recently laid off at least 15% of their workforce. There’s also a jobs bloodbath currently occurring in the media sector.
On Wednesday, ADP reported that only 107,000 private-sector jobs were created in January.
There are other technical problems with the jobs report. Seasonal adjustments and annual revisions to population estimates have made January jobs reports notoriously untrustworthy. I can’t understand why we need opaque “seasonal adjustments” to the job numbers at all. Americans are smart enough to understand that job creation will be higher in some months and lower in others for seasonal reasons. We don’t need green eyeshades smoothing them for us.
Bipartisan tax cut legislation passed this week in the House of Representatives can turbocharge job creation in both surveys in the months ahead. The legislation, brokered by House Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO), extends key tax cuts passed as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, making it easier for small businesses to invest, expand, and hire.
This legislation is overwhelmingly supported by Main Street, with small businesses calling the immediate expensing provision “a game-changer.” The Senate should quickly pass this legislation and send it to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
In the meantime, let’s see if the payroll and household surveys continue to diverge in the jobs reports ahead. If they do, it will be more confirmation that the economy is not out of the woods yet.