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Jobs Report Not As Bad As Expected; Snow Not A Major Factor In Job Loss

The Labor Department released its employment summary today, and found that payrolls shrunk by 36,000 people in February, with the overall unemployment rate holding steady at 9.7%. In addition, December was revised upwards to -109,000, and January revised slightly downward to -26,000. Experts predicted a larger decrease in payroll, so this figure outperformed those expectations.

Some economists thought the snowy month across the country would lead to artificially reduced payrolls, and the BLS survey addressed that:

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.

It looks like the snow was a minimal factor, but that would mean that we’re muddling through a pathetically bad labor market, not gaining any jobs and not losing too many, just set at a “new normal” of mass unemployment. The numbers aren’t bad enough to rouse Congress or the White House about the urgency of the situation, but aren’t good enough to cheer anyone, either. It’s just a flat line.

UPDATE: Maybe we should push to see the metrics for job statistics altered to better reflect reality, they way they have been altered for poverty statistics, so the true extent of the jobs crisis could be better seen.

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David Dayen

David Dayen