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National Jobs for All Network
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P.O. Box 96, Lynbrook, NY 11563 · njfan@njfac.org · www.njfac.org 
News Update, February 2022
January 2021 Jobs Report Analysis
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Good News? The Jobs Reports for January, 2022


By FRANK STRICKER

            The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) job report offered some surprises, especially in light of dire predictions about the Omicron crisis. At first glance the impact seemed slight. The official unemployment rate of 4% was up just a tenth of a point. And job totals from the survey of business and governmental establishments increased by 467,000. Most experts predicted smaller job additions, and the business services firm known as ADP even predicted a decline of 300,000 jobs. (ADP’s predictions are rarely on target.) 

            While the addition of 467,000 workers is much better than expected for the Establishment totals,(1) we might want to temper the optimism. The job numbers that the BLS received from its sample of business and government organizations showed that job totals actually fell by almost 3 million from December 2021 to January 2022. A shocker, right?  But not to the BLS. Something like this happens every year in January, due, in part, to such seasonal factors as layoffs for holiday workers and bad weather. The BLS tries to present long-range trends rather than seasonal dips and bumps that are predictable and not necessarily due to underlying weaknesses and strengths. So BLS experts applied a smoothing process to reflect those underlying trends rather than the typical January decline.
 
            Also, we at National Jobs for All Network (NJFAN) believe that the federal report systematically undercounts unemployment. So while the official overall unemployment rate was 4%, NJFAN calculates that the real rate was 9.4%. Our Full Count includes people who want jobs but have not recently searched and part-timers who want full-time work.

Are the January Numbers Solid?

            While the addition of 467,000 workers is much better than expected for the Establishment totals,(1) we might want to temper the optimism. The job numbers that the BLS received from its sample of business and government organizations showed that job totals actually fell by almost 3 million from December 2021 to January 2022. A shocker, right?  But not to the BLS. Something like this happens every year in January, due, in part, to such seasonal factors as layoffs for holiday workers and bad weather. The BLS tries to present long-range trends rather than seasonal dips and bumps that are predictable and not necessarily due to underlying weaknesses and strengths. So BLS experts applied a smoothing process to reflect those underlying trends rather than the typical January decline.

            The formulas behind the standard seasonal adjustments must be more than my little brain
can handle, so I am not even going to try. But the sheer size of the change--from a decline of 2,824,000 million in the seasonally unadjusted number, to an increase of 467,000 in the seasonally adjusted number--is unsettling. I won’t feel confident about the January report until the numbers for February and March come on the high side.(2)

Why Didn’t the Omicron Scourge Have an Impact?

            It did. But not as much as expected. The overall job numbers were fairly good. And some sectors did pretty well. The leisure and hospitality group, which includes bars and restaurants, added 151,000 workers, and retail trade added 61,000. There were even 8,000 additional people employed in book and music stores.  

            The BLS report and other sources did, however, register the Omicron impact. For example, the BLS reported that six million people said they worked fewer hours or not at all due to the impact of the pandemic on business activity. For the period from December 29 through January 10, 8.8 million workers reported not working because they were sick or taking care of someone who was sick. That was triple the same statistic for early December. Some people in these categories--in particular those getting sick pay--turn up in the numbers as still employed. Thus the Omicron effect is muted.

            Also, more workers stayed on the job than we might have predicted. More were vaccinated, more customers were willing to take chances than in past surges, and many employers continued to pressure their employees to keep working, even if they felt sick.

            Perhaps, too, employers kept in mind that the Omicron wave would pass and that the “labor shortage” would continue. So they held on to their workers. The number of job vacancies has topped 10,000,000 every month from June through December of 2021. In 21 years, job openings have never been that high in any month. And worker quits, sometimes reflecting disgust with lousy jobs and confidence about finding a better position, are the highest they have been in their 21-year history– much higher than they were during the 2009-2014 slog out of the Great Recession.

            Retired Disney CEO Bob Iger, known as an in-touch business leader, asked The New York Times’ Kara Swisher: “Why don’t these people want to work?” Swisher answered: “Because some jobs suck, and they’re sick of it.” It’s true. For now the era of “The Great Resignation,” “The Big Rethink,” and “The Labor Shortage” lives on.

Inflation is High and Harmful but the Alternative Could be Worse

            The labor shortage may end this year if slower federal spending and tighter interest rates shove the economy into a recession. The recovery from the pandemic recession is far from complete, and we aren’t close to real full employment. Heavy federal spending and easy money  powered a quick come-back. They also fueled high levels of spending on goods. That contributed to inflation. A negative, high inflation was part of the mostly successful recovery program.

            But will government policy now crash the economy because the experts cannot find a less painful way to restrain inflation and because people are prioritizing resentments and anxieties about inflation rather than fears about the higher unemployment that is lurking around the corner? Yes, inflation is painful, especially for low-income households. But 10 or 20% unemployment is much more painful. And for the record, real hourly wages for rank-and-file workers fell 1.3% over the last year. But in the last two months, the decline totaled one tenth of a percent.
 
Notes

1) There are two job surveys that the BLS publishes every month. The Household Survey gives the unemployment numbers and other useful information including the social characteristics of unemployed persons. The Establishment Survey (also called payroll numbers) is based on information submitted by non-farm organizations. This information yields the monthly job totals that get a lot of attention every month. It also gives us job totals in specific businesses and industries.

2) The actual number of jobs that seasonality-measures added to the initial numbers for January was not out of line. The seasonal additions for January in the past 7 years have all been between 2,043,000 and 2,251,000.

 
Frank Stricker is on the Board and Executive Committee of the National Jobs for All Network and is a member of Democratic Socialists of America. He taught history and labor studies for 35 years at California State University, Dominguez Hills. His book, American Unemployment: Past, Present, and Future (2020), shows that excessive unemployment, not full employment, has been the rule for most of the last century and a half. And not because it had to be.

To comment on this article, visit NJFAN.org

The Full Count: January 2022
Unemployment Data

Officially unemployed: 6.5 MILLION (4.0%)

Hidden unemployment: 9.4 million

(Includes 3.7 million people working part-time

because they can't find a full-time job;
and 5.7 million people who want jobs,

but are not actively looking)

Total: 15.9 MILLION (9.4% of the labor force)

There are 1.5 job-wanters for each available job!

For more information and analysis, visit: www.njfac.org

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Employment Statistics


Since its founding in 1994, the National Jobs for All Network (previously Coalition) has been “telling the whole story” about unemployment.*

Our founders recognized that the official unemployment rate reported monthly by the Labor Department leaves out more jobless and job short workers than it includes. To be counted as unemployed, one must work less than one hour a week in paid employment and be actively seeking employment. As the above figures show, more than half the unemployed or underemployed are left out of the official count. Consider the political consequences of this undercount—of a problem perceived by the public as less than half as widespread as it really is.

*See “Unemployment Statistics: Let’s Tell the Whole Story” by NJFAC founders Helen Lachs Ginsburg, Bill Ayres, and June Zaccone, Employment Statistics: Let's Tell the Whole Story - NJFAC
 

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The National Jobs for All Network is dedicated to the proposition that meaningful employment is a precondition for a fulfilling life and that every person capable of working should have the right to a job. As part of our mission, the NJFAN promotes discussion, encourages networking, and disseminates information concerning the problem of unemployment, the struggle for workers’ rights, and the goal of guaranteeing decent work for everyone who wants it.

NJFAN relies on your support. If you find our material useful, please make a tax-deductible donation. We are all volunteers, except for a part-time coordinator and a part-time administrator.

We are publishing this newsletter to provide a public forum where the multiple groups and countless individuals interested in promoting this goal can learn what others are doing to promote the jobs guarantee idea, build public support for it, and pursue legislative initiatives to implement it.

We invite our readers to:
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Please send your updates and contact suggestions to njfan@njfac.org. Thanks so much in advance for your help in building this important social movement.

The views expressed in the articles published in the Jobs for All newsletter (including those authored by editors and writers of the newsletter and board members of the NJFAN) are not necessarily those of the NJFAN as an organization. We hope that the newsletter will become a forum of discussion and debate among jobs-for-all/full-employment/right-to-work/job-guarantee advocates. With that goal in mind, we plan to add a letter to the editor section to the newsletter and also encourage readers to email us at http://newsletter@njfan.com to suggest articles they would like to contribute to the newsletter. We promise a quick response.

Newsletter Committee
Trudy Goldberg, Editor.  Chuck Bell and Charlotte Wilhelm (production managers); Frank Stricker; Philip Harvey; Stephen Monroe Tomczak (Movement News); Logan Martinez; June Zaccone (Full Count and NJFAN website) and Noreen Connell.

National Jobs for All Network
P.O. Box 96
Lynbrook, NY 11563
203-856-3877
Web: www.njfac.org
Email: njfan@njfac.org 
 
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