BLS Employment Situation Report: January 2013

Friday, February 01, 2013

In January, total employment grew by 157,000 positions, while the unemployment rate was essentially unchanged at 7.9 percent.  Revisions were also released for all of 2012, showing an additional 647,000 jobs were added throughout the year, including 150,000 in the fourth quarter. Since the low point for U.S. employment in early 2010, the economy has now added back more than 5 million jobs. The service providing sector of the economy is more than 700,000 jobs above its 2007 pre-recession peak.

Inside the numbers, some of the many fundamentals show that the job growth continues to be strong with permanent positions being added across the economy. Workforce participation rates are stable and the number of discouraged jobs seekers appears to be falling. The average length of unemployment also fell in the last quarter. In October of 2012, the average length of unemployment was nearly 20 weeks. In January, it dropped to 16 weeks.

Management and professional unemployment rates continued to edge downwards as well, falling from 4.3 percent a year ago to 3.9 percent in January. Salespeople, however, have seen an unexpected rise in unemployment, growing from 8.2 percent a year ago to 8.5 percent this January. As has become all too common in the recent economy, though, unemployment has disproportionately affected those without a four-year college degree. In January, the unemployment rate rose for everyone except those with a bachelor's degree, for whom it fell from 3.9 to 3.7 percent.

Specialty trade contractors, both residential and commercial, continued to add jobs at a high rate in January (26,200 positions), possibly a continued effect of the damage wrought on the northeastern seaboard by super storm Sandy. There wasn't however, a noticeable impact of the decreased government spending which led to the -0.1 percent U.S. GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2012. While there was a net loss of 9,000 government jobs-across all levels of government-in January, the losses were in line with losses throughout the last year.

After that surprising negative GDP growth report earlier in the week, the January BLS report provides a renewed confidence in the positive improvement in the economy. The revisions also confirm stronger employment growth in 2012 than earlier estimates. While previous establishment surveys didn't see the level of employment growth necessary for the amount that unemployment was indeed falling in the household survey, these most recent revisions bring those two metrics closer into alignment.