Explaining Southern California's economy

Why an 11-percent unemployment rate in California is better than 10.9 percent

Career Fair Held For Job Seekers

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Job seekers hand out resumes to a recruiter during the San Francisco Hire Event job fair. California unemployment rate actually rose slightly in March.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its California jobs report today for March, as did the Employment Development Department (EDD). The bad news is that the state's unemployment rate climbed very slightly, to 11 percent from 10.9 percent. The good news is that the state added more than 18,000 jobs in the month. And the even better news is that the rate ticked up because the overall labor force is actually growing.

I know, I know, where's the good-good news in that? Well, greater labor force participation will tend to bring the unemployment rate up. That's because there are more people looking for work than there were in February — a sign that people who had been out of the labor market now feel confident enough to come back in.

Ironically, that 0.1 increase is a positive indicator. 


Is the Labor Department missing small business jobs?


So by now everybody knows about the disappointing March jobs report from the BLS. Marketplace's Heidi Moore commented on "The Madeleine Brand Show" this morning that the glass is still half full. She stressed that we were promised a slow recovery, and we're getting a a slow recovery.

But she also raised the scary prospect of structural unemployment, which essentially means that we have workers who can't get a job because the skills they have are either no longer needed in the volumes they were before the financial crisis; or because they aren't living in a place where their skills can be put to use. You could add to that the disappearance of whole career options — not much demand for typesetters these days — and you get a new definition of "full" employment, maybe something more like 6 percent than 4-5 percent.


March jobs report: The bad news and the good news

A jobs sign hangs above the entrance to


A jobs sign hangs above the entrance to the US Chamber of Commerce building in Washington, DC.

Well, I wasn't even close. Yesterday, I predicted that we'd see another decent if not spectacular jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. My number was 225,000 jobs added. But the actual number, released by the BLS this morning, is miles lower then that: 120,000.

That's the bad news. The good news, if you can call it that, is that the national unemployment rate fell to 8.2 percent from 8.3 percent. But that's just because more than 120,000 Americans quit looking for work. (Did I say this was the good news part?)

There was some truly good news. The trend of the BLS revising up the previous month's result continues: a gain of 227,000 jobs was originally reported for February, but that number has been adjusted to 240,000.

It's a good thing the markets are closed today for Good Friday, as this "surprise to the downside" — given that most economists who follow the labor market expected another month of 200,000-plus new jobs in March — may very well not have been priced in (basically, already accounted for), given that the major stock indexes shed some gains this week.


Get ready for tomorrow's jobs report

A jobs sign hangs above the entrance to


A jobs sign hangs above the entrance to the US Chamber of Commerce building in Washington, DC.

Time to take a crack at handicapping tomorrow's official March jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If you'll recall, February came in at 227,000 and the national unemployment rate remained at 8.3 percent. That was good but not great; the economy really needs to add close to 400,000 jobs each month to reduce the rate to a pre-crisis level. But for the moment, adding 200,000-plus jobs each month shows that the economy is slowly recovering and expanding, even if GDP growth is only running at 2-2.5 percent.

There's a wrinkle to the March numbers — the data is usually released in the first Friday of the month, and this time around Friday is a holiday for the stock market (Good Friday). This basically gives traders a long weekend to digest the news.

Anyway, to the handicapping! The ADP report came out yesterday and said the economy added 209,000 in March. The Bloomberg consensus — a survey of 77 economists — says the number will be 205,000. Business Insider has been crunching various datasets of late and comes up with 193,000, a somewhat alarming figure given that we want to see 200,000 at least to support the idea that GDP is puttering along at around 2-2.5 percent, down from the 3 percent we saw in the fourth quarter of last year, but not the discouraging sub-2-percent pace we witnessed in much of 2011.


Recovery might be slow, but it isn't uneven

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Workers build a Jeep Compass at the Chrysler assembly plant in Belvidere, Ill. Manufacturing has been a high point for the recovering U.S. economy, reflecting the rebirth of the U.S. auto industry.

Strange assertion from the L.A. Times today, as some new construction and manufacturing data comes out:

The economic recovery is happening at a very slow and not especially steady pace, according to new indicators that include construction spending sliding to a 7-month low and ever-so-slight improvement in the manufacturing sector.

Construction, given its exposure to the cratered housing market, should really be viewed off to the side of the rest of the data. The real meat of the matter is in manufacturing:

The factory outlook was more optimistic, though not by much. An index on the manufacturing sector from the Institute for Supply Management was up to 53.4 in March from 52.4 in February.

Any level above 50 – which production facilities have managed to maintain for more than two and a half years – represents growth. Fifteen of the 18 industries in the survey, including apparel, machinery and transportation equipment, reported overall expansion.