Later this morning, the Bureau for Labor Statistics will release the latest jobs report. And since it is an election year, everyone who has been elected to anything will have an opinion about it, whether transmitted through tweet, statement, Snapchat, or CNN appearance. Here are some helpful facts that will place the updated unemployment rate in the proper economic and political context.
1. 3.7 million
That's the number of Americans who have been out of work for more than six months, as of March. The long-term unemployed are one of the most frustrating things about the economy right now. Recent studies have shown that the longer you are unemployed, the less likely it is you are going to be called back when searching for a job. Thirty-four percent of the long-term unemployed are part of households under the poverty line. And, many of these long-term unemployed are mostly invisible, as far as the unemployment rate goes. Once you stop looking a job, you fall out of the BLS's calculation, meaning it's hard to determine how much of the decreasing unemployment rate is due to people getting jobs, and how much is due to people giving up. The White House recently issued a memo telling federal agencies not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed. President Obama also got more than 300 companies to promise they would not discriminate either. The number of people applying for unemployment benefits is also rising. The Labor Department reported that 344,000 people applied for unemployment benefits last week -- 14,000 more than the previous week. Benefit applications are 40 percent below their peak in 2009, and experts say that they are generally trending downward despite the recent increase, but the rate of decrease is slow.
2. 3.6 million
That's the number of people who make minimum wage, according to the Labor Department -- about 5 percent of the United States' hourly workers. However, the Democrats pushing for a federal minimum wage hike estimate that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would help 28 million workers -- many state minimum wage laws are higher than $7.25 but less than $10.10. However, the relatively low number of people making $7.25 means that few people will base their vote on it in the midterm elections -- and that means raising it is highly unlikely. So people making minimum wage are unlikely to see their fortunes improve in the near future. And the number of people making low wages is increasing. The quick and dirty jobs report numbers aren't quite as good as showing the quality of jobs that the people who are entering the workplace are getting. The unemployment number is definitely going down, and jobs are being created. However, many of these jobs are low paying. A new report from the National Employment Law Center shows that although 22 percent of jobs lost during the recession were low paying, they have accounted for 44 percent of job growth during the recovery. There are nearly 2 million more low-wage workers than there were before the recession. In other words, more and more people are being paid the minimum wage or close to it, even as the unemployment rate goes down. If the issue doesn't seem like a hot one on the surface now, it could be if the economy doesn't improve mightily soon.
3. 57 percent
Fifty-seven percent of registered voters disapprove of President Obama's handling of the economy, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. Midterm elections have become increasingly entwined with the public's opinion of the presidency, so voters are likely to transfer their discontent with Obama to the polls. The reason for that discontent is likley that Americans almost always see economy fixin' as one of the president's main jobs -- although his arsenal of constitutional tools doesn't include much of anything that could persuade the economy to change course. For example, former President Clinton can thank the economy for helping his wildly high approval ratings in the middle of an impeachment trial. Now, however, voters don't feel so hot about the economy. Seventy-two percent of registered voters think the economy is not so good or poor. Thirty-five percent of registered voters think the economy is staying the same. Thirty-six percent of registered voters think the economy is getting worse. That doesn't bode well for Democrats, who have the air of incumbency thanks to the fact that the presidency belongs to them. Unless the economy starts adding a tremendous amount of jobs -- and keeps doing so through November -- voters aren't going to notice a difference, and they will vote accordingly. In March, the economy added 192,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate remained steady at 6.7 percent. Economists predict that we added about 210,000 jobs in April. One economist told the New York Times last month, “Growth-wise, in terms of the economy and the labor market, we think 2014 will look a lot like 2013 and 2012 did." In other words, things are likely to progress -- but just as slowly as they have been.
4. 0.1 percent
The GDP increased by a measly 0.1 percent in the first quarter on 2014, far below expectations. After revisions, some fear things could get worse. In the last quarter of 2012, the economy also grew by 0.1 percent. The weather -- the coldest winter the United States has seen in awhile -- didn't help. Neither did the housing market, hurt by the weather and high prices. Shrinking government budgets also accounted for some of the drop. However, if the weather is truly to blame, we should see the GDP drop more as a delay. Projects and spending that were put off during January, February and March could now happen in upcoming months, bringing the GDP -- which some contend is a flawed economic metric anyway -- back up where it should be. Some of the GDP's sore spots -- like exports -- can't be explained away by the weather. We'll see in the upcoming months how much of a blip the current report is. Some brighter news -- Americans are starting to spend more, now that winter has finally come to a close. In March, consumer spending increased by 0.9 percent -- the largest monthly gain in five years. Consumer spending and health-care spending, pushed by the Affordable Care Act, was a bright spot in the GDP report, too. While everything else fell away in the winter, Americans were still determined to spend.
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