Friday, March 05, 2010

February unemployment: Obama just says snow 

Obama, touring a small business in Arlington, Va., said that the 36,000 jobs lost last month was "actually better than expected" considering the massive snowstorms that devastated the East Coast.

But the president said the steady number also �shows that the measures we're taking to turn our economy around are having some impact.�
From the Hill. I'm sure he only had time to read the executive summary, but if you read the actual report it includes this:
Major winter storms affected parts of the country during the February reference periods for the establishment and household surveys.

In the establishment survey, the reference period was the pay period including February 12th. In order for severe weather conditions to reduce the estimate of payroll employment, employees have to be off work for an entire pay period and not be paid for the time missed. About half of all workers in the payroll survey have a 2-week, semi-monthly, or monthly pay period. Workers who received pay for any part of the reference pay period, even one hour, are counted in the February payroll employment figures. While some persons may have been off payrolls during the survey reference period, some industries, such as those dealing with cleanup and repair activities, may have added workers.

In the household survey, the reference period was the calendar week of February 7-13. People who miss work for weather-related events are counted as employed whether or not they are paid for the time off.
That says to me that BLS does not think the storm greatly altered the employment data.

Where you would see a real effect of the storm would be on hours worked, but the data has a half-hour decline for construction and not much else. The headline number for private sector hours worked declined by 0.1 hours, with a similar small drop in weekly earnings, even though hourly wages were up three cents.

There are no data on hours worked in the government sector in that report. But Diana Furchgott-Roth of the Hudson Institute notes that those government workers who were unable to work did not lose pay and weren't laid off. So they can't be in this number.

36,000 jobs lost is a bit better than the consensus of 50k, but 14,000 is certainly smaller than the margin of error or the size of the monthly revision. The January number was revised to -26,000 from -20,000, for example.

On the good news/bad news front, the household survey actually showed job gains in February, but also an increase in those that had left the labor force but still wanted a job. The suddenly-fashionable U-6 unemployment rate (including discouraged workers, marginally attached workers and those working part-time that would prefer full-time work) rose to 16.8% from 16.5% in January.

In that context, Obama also promised a zero unemployment rate:
Despite the relatively good news, Obama repeated his pledge that he �will not rest� until every American who wants a job has one.
Good luck with that.