June 13, 2024
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June 13, 2024
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Through Which End of the Telescope Are You Looking?

The economy created 261,000 jobs in October. Great news!

The economy created 261,000 jobs in October. How disappointing!

For a career coach and job market observer like me, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly jobs report, released early each month, is always a serious point of focus.

Immediately thereafter begins the ensuing and predictable raft of analysis, editorializing, chest thumping, hand wringing, continued prognostication, politicizing, finger pointing, credit grabbing, and all other manner of dialog, from clear and objective reporting (rare) to blather and rattle (all too common and usually just plain stupid).

In the long run and big picture, it’s all pretty amusing, when you realize how complex the market really is and that most “experts” talk about job creation, the unemployment rate, and nothing more – and call that a report.

For example, the economy created 261,000 jobs in October. Before holding that up to the light, do you like that number? Most “experts” don’t, citing the monthly rate of 562,000 in all of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022. Now, says one analyst, we’re “sputtering.”

Really? Whereas 261K is the lowest figure in 22 months, it would rank in the top 15% of the 120 months of the entire previous decade. How fast we forget, no?

Under the Microscope

Remember high school biology class? And the first time you looked at a drop of water under the microscope? Remember seeing so much activity? Things swimming around, bumping into each other, shapes evolving, and so on? One drop of water. So much going on.

Same thing with the job market.

For example, those 261,000 jobs were created in a civilian labor force—the number of people either working or looking for work—that actually declined by 22,000 people, and a civilian noninstitutional population – working age – that grew by only 179,000, a rate of only 83% compared to a year ago. In other words, in the face of slowing population growth and a shrinking workforce (temporary, for sure, but there), the job market still put up a big number – on the tail of 21 consecutive big numbers since January 2021.

In Spite of It All

Another thing that gets nitpicked to death is the unemployment rate, especially when it goes up. Well, last month it ticked up 0.2% from 3.5%, and boy, did that ever lead to a lot of spilled ink! And here’s what’s wrong with that criticism: (1) 3.7% is still historically so low that it’s considered full employment, and then some; (2) it’s a one-month number, and if your cardiologist measured your heart rate like that, you’d be declared dead; (3) unemployment rates can fluctuate in reaction to many different things, like hires and layoffs, and the interplay of all of those things. In this case, with the population rising (slightly) and the workforce declining (ever so slightly), we’re almost certain to see a rise in the unemployment rate. The truth of it? Go back to your homes, folks; there’s nothing to see here.

The VERY Big Picture

Problem is, any and all of these data mean little when examined by themselves. Staying on the data level, they all need to be put into context,and that’s when more open-minded thinkers prevail.

Then, rising above the data, we ask the right questions. What were (or are) the conditions under which this was accomplished? What forces were / are at work? And that’s when we realize the following:

It couldn’t have been more challenging.

Despite the confluence of forceful influences on the job market – technology, supply chain emergencies, climate urgency, rampant viruses, a crazy global political environment, inflation, a looming recession, chip shortage, war – the job market created 6,743,000 jobs last year, by far the most in history, and is poised to add 4,500,000 this year, a number that will turn out to be the second highest in history. Think about it: the top two months in history, consecutively.

Remarkable. Yet the naysayers are complaining about 261,000 jobs.

Wait. That’s not the big finish. If all those headwinds weren’t enough, how about the Fed raising rates this year like a best man buying rounds at a bachelor party? No argument from me as to why: inflation has to be combatted. But bringing down inflation and keeping down unemployment are pretty much incompatible by nature, so I’ll applaud even longer and harder for that performance of creating 261,000 jobs last month.

A heap of natural and man-made disasters wasn’t enough to bring down the job market, and now even fiscal policy isn’t doing it. I’d say that not only speaks to the job market’s health and complexity; but it supports the statement that it’s the job market that’s been keeping the whole economy from sinking into a full recession.

That deserves a standing ovation.

Career Coach Eli Amdur provides one-on-one coaching in job search, résumés, and interviewing.

Reach him at [email protected] or

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