On Friday morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released jobs numbers that offered unqualified good news about the state of the American economy in February. Analysts had expected to find that the economy added about 200,000 jobs last month, but the tally topped 313,000, the highest number since President Trump was inaugurated.
Gains of more than 300,000 jobs happen fairly regularly, but the last time the country saw such a large gain while unemployment was so low — the rate remained at 4.1 percent for the fifth straight month — was during the economic boom of the 1990s.
That employment gain wasn’t the only good news the report contained. Other points that might soon make their way into a presidential tweet:
Jobs numbers from December and January were adjusted upward
The Labor Department’s jobs estimates aren’t final until two months after their initial releases (meaning that the February count of 313,000 could go higher — or fall). But the revisions to the initial numbers for December and January were both good. The country added 15,000 more jobs in December than estimated last month, and 39,000 more jobs in January. That’s a gain of 54,000 more jobs over those two months.
As The Washington Post’s Danielle Paquette notes, those numbers went up even though 18 states boosted the minimum wage at the beginning of the year.
The unemployment rate for African Americans fell, approaching its record low
Trump had taken to celebrating the continuing decline in black and Hispanic unemployment, often implying that the record lows were a function of his efforts. That rhetoric was muddied in January when the unemployment rate for African Americans spiked. But it’s a volatile measure. In February, the rate was 6.9 percent, still above the 6.8 percent low seen in December, but better than the 7.7 percent in January.
The unemployment rate for black men is the lowest it has been since December 1973. Hispanic unemployment is still near its low.
(Data by gender is for those aged 20 or older.)
More people are looking for work
While the unemployment rate dropped during the Obama administration, critics pointed to another number that was falling: the labor force participation rate, a measure of the number of people who were working or looking for work. The number of eligible people who were part of the labor force had been slipping, partly because of baby boomers heading to retirement. The lower percentage of those saying they couldn’t find work, then, wasn’t including those who had stopped looking at all.
Then that decline stopped. Since late 2013, the labor force participation rate overall has hovered around 63 percent (save a brief dip in 2015). That’s where it was in February. But the labor force participation rate among those of prime working age — 25 to 54 — hit a number not seen since mid-2010.
Wages increased (although not much)
One of the longer-term questions is how continued unemployment will affect wages. The theory is that low unemployment will create more competition for jobs, forcing employers to boost compensation to attract new workers. (Some of the post-tax-cut compensation announcements over the past few months were ultimately credited to this pressure.) In February, average hourly wages rose a modest 4 cents, after a 7-cent increase in January. Year-over-year, the increase was 68 cents, a 2.6 percent increase.
The number of people unemployed for six months or more is near a 10-year low
During the recession, the number of people out of work for an extended period of time quickly spiked. That figure has dropped but more slowly than it had raised.
In February, the number of people out of work for 27 weeks or more dropped below 1.4 million for the first time since early 2008.
That’s good news. Everything above is good news.