The Washington Post

This was the ‘Groundhog Day’ of jobs reports

Paging Bill Murray . . . (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

It's hard to get too worked up about the July jobs report, even for someone whose job is to get worked up about the jobs report.

The pace of job creation (162,000 jobs added last month and revisions to earlier months that subtracted 26,000 jobs) was softer than the consensus analyst forecast, and quite a bit softer than some of the numbers that the Wall Street crowd had built into their expectations after a slew of better-than-expected data earlier in the week. The good news, if it can be called that, was that the unemployment rate tumbled to 7.4 percent from 7.6 percent in June. But a significant part of that drop was people leaving the labor force, and when that is factored out, the report was only so-so.

Add it all up, and it's the kind of jobs report that should spike neither a panic nor celebration, but rather a shrug and an "eh, maybe it will get better next month."

It's a fitting metaphor for this entire economic recovery. That's just the way it has been: steady, consistent, always moving forward, just not very briskly.

The nation has now added an average of 192,000 jobs a month in 2013, which is a bit better than the 183,000 average in 2012. So, there's progress of a sort. Yet every three steps toward a faster pace of expansion seems to be accompanied by two steps back. For example, in June there was improvement on worker wages and hours. That partly reversed itself in July.

Similarly, more negative trends also seem to erase themselves in subsequent months; the broader unemployment rate known as U-6 shot up in June, but then came back down in July, to 14 percent from 14.3 percent.

Even what appears to be the most definitive and revelatory trend seen in the recent months' data -- more people taking part-time jobs who want full-time work -- is not as shocking as it might seem. Yes, the number of people working part-time for economic reasons has risen by 607,000 since March, including a 19,000 rise in July. But if you look at things over the longer horizon, the number is identical to its level a year ago. Maybe nothing to see here after all, carry on.

The Federal Reserve is likely to view this report as oh-so-slightly dovish, meaning that it is just soft enough that they will be a smidgeon more reluctant to begin slowing their monthly purchases of bonds at their September policy meeting than they otherwise would be. But even that adjustment, reflected in Friday's stock market, was just a reversal of a shift in expectations from early in the week.

What conclusion to draw? Maybe this: Economy watchers should head to the beach and take the rest of August off. Or maybe learn from Bill Murray in the movie "Groundhog Day," and take this opportunity to learn to play the piano, or be a better human being, or something. It's a better use of time than trying to find an interesting, dramatic new trend in the July jobs numbers.



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Dylan Matthews · August 2, 2013

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