FOR THE LAST five months, the civilian unemployment rate has stayed at 7.3 percent. Some bad news in the June unemployment release -- drops in both jobs and jobseekers -- probably has more to do with technical troubles in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' household survey and seasonal adjustments than troubles in the economy. But, as BLS Commissioner Janet Norwood points out, the more reliable payroll survey corroborates other evidence that the economy is in the doldrums.
Despite continued growth in defense procurement, factory jobs fell again. The loss in factory employment since January now exceeds 220,000. Services continued to grow but at a slower rate. Even the fast growing business service sector slowed down markedly.
Commissioner Norwood points out, however, that job losses are not necessarily equivalent to economic losses. Firms that have invested in new equipment and other labor-saving devices may, for example, be able to expand production while reducing employment. And workers released from manufacturing may find a place in the expanding service sector, which provides many well-paid jobs. Still, the absence of overall economic loss does not guarantee against substantial personal losses, which, as other data reveal, remain substantial.
If you live in a booming area, it's easy to forget that many others are still far from recovery. In some cities, and even whole states, unemployment has declined to levels that meet anyone's definition of full employment. But the most recent available data show that in April 32 states still had unemployment rates above 6 percent. Five states had rates above 10 percent.
As you might guess, high unemployment tends to be where smokestack industry once dominated. These areas are not as badly off as they were in the depths of the cession -- some workers have moved on, many automobile workers have been called back, new jobs have been created. But workers are understandably slow to leave homes and communities for the rough and raw towns in fast- growth areas -- and some of those areas are now stalling too.
No direct federal aid can be expected -- in fact, more cuts are in the offing. The best hopes are a revival of general economic growth and export markets. Many economists now see the economy poised for change. Characteristically, they disagree on the direction. Those who focus on the rapid expansion of the money supply in recent months expect another spurt of growth. A smaller number worries about the trends that underlie the June unemployment numbers.