Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Unemployed father of two, Michael Lopez waits for work outside a temporary labor office in the Southern Californian town of El Centro, a town of 50,000 people where 30.4 percent of the work-age population are without employment, on October 28, 2010.
As many of you know, our California weather took a zany and destructive turn on Wednesday, with 60-80 mph Santa Ana winds whipping down from the desert and decimating the urban treescape of places like Pasadena. It was the worst wind anyone had seen in years.
The BLS jobs report, on the other hand, didn't look too terrible for November. The country added 120,000 jobs last month, which was a lot lower than than the 206,000 the ADP report predicted earlier this week. But still, better than the revised October number of 100,000 (up from 80,000).
The unemployment rate dropped from 9 percent to 8.6 percent, a surprising downward trend (subject to revision, of course) that could bode well for something like a 7-percent unemployment next November. In other words, good news for President Obama's re-election chances, even though the White House isn't predicting 6-percent unemployment rate until 2017.
However, the decline was largely due to people giving up on finding work. Drop-outs, if you will, in the jobs sweepstakes. More than 300,000 of them have thrown in the towel.
In response to this, Felix Salmon focuses, rightly, on the employment-to-population ratio:
When employed people become unemployed, that’s bad news, and immediately visible in the unemployment rate. When unemployed people leave the labor force entirely, that’s equally bad news, but it’s a tougher measure for the public to connect with, since at that point they’re no longer counted in the unemployment rate. Everybody knows what “unemployment” is; the population which cares about the “employment-to-population ratio”, by contrast, is wholly comprised of wonks.
The plunge in the employment-to-population ratio over the course of the Great Recession is going to be its biggest and most lasting legacy. We’re now back to the levels last seen in the days before most women worked, but we live in a very different world now. In the late 1970s, a woman without a job was much less likely to consider herself unemployed than in the early 2010s. And when she casts her vote in November, the degree to which she’s happy or unhappy with the current administration is going to be much more connected to her actual employment status than it is to whether she’s officially showing up in the unemployment rolls.
So, actually, the unemployment-to-population ratio is as bad as the California weather. And unlike our briefly destructive Santa Ana event, it's unlikely to improve overnight.