Do the Job Numbers Really Add Up?


Last Friday the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in the first month of this new year 243,000  jobs were created and the unemployment rate (U.3) fell to 8.3 percent.  This good news is a mirage. It is due to faulty seasonal adjustments and to the BLS birth/death model. In a prolonged downturn, seasonal adjustments and the birth/death model produce nonexistent employment.

The unadjusted data show a rise in the unemployment rate. The birth/death model, which estimates the net effect of jobs lost from business failures and jobs created by new start-ups was designed for a normal growing economy, not for a prolonged downturn four years old. Statistician John Williams (shadowstats.com) reports that the BLS adds 48,000 new jobs per month to the payroll employment report based on the birth/death model even though the economy has not  come out of the deep recession. In other words, over the course of a year, the birth/death model adds about 580,000 jobs to the reported jobs numbers.  End of year benchmark revisions quietly take the nonexistent jobs out of the totals, but these revisions do not receive headlines and pass largely unnoticed.

The reported January jobs gains are contradicted by other official reports. For example, The January payroll jobs report shows 50,000 new jobs in manufacturing, but according to the recently released 4th quarter GDP, 81% of the reported growth consisted of undesired inventory accumulation.  Normally, companies produce for sales not for inventories. Why would manufacturers be hiring people to produce goods for undesired inventories?

Most of the new reported January jobs are in services. The January jobs report has 24,500 new jobs in wholesale and retail trade and 13,100 in transportation and warehousing. However the data shows that inflation-corrected real retail sales are down. Why does it take more people to sell fewer goods?

The other remaining sizable components of the January jobs number are: professional and technical services (30,000), administrative and waste services (36,700), health care and social assistance (29,700), and leisure and hospitality (44,000) of which the largest component is food services and drinking places (32,800).

The leisure, waitresses and bartender employment numbers seen high for January. Perhaps it was an excellent ski month in the US.  However, accommodation (hotels)  does not support this conclusion as accommodation lost 3,900 jobs.

The BLS reports 21,000 new jobs in construction. However, the housing report says that housing starts dropped more than forecast in December, falling 4.1 percent. Why does it take more construction workers to produce fewer houses? Building permits, a proxy for future construction, were little changed.

As the adjusted data produce phantom jobs and employment, the BLS should headline the raw unadjusted data. With so many discouraged workers unable to find jobs, dropping discouraged workers out of the measure of unemployment seriously understates the true magnitude of the unemployment problem.  If Americans were aware of the double-digit unemployment rate, would they be as tolerant of Washington’s multi-trillion dollar wars?  Would Obama be facing a tougher re-election campaign? Would Republicans be pushing to reduce the federal budget deficit at the expense of the social safety net?

The phony data serve many interests, but not those of the American people.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.  His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached through his website

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving