Explaining Southern California's economy

March jobs report: The bad news and the good news

A jobs sign hangs above the entrance to

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

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.

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January jobs report: Even better than December

A jobs sign hangs above the entrance to

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

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

That sound you heard emanating from Washington this morning might just be the great lurching creak of the U.S. economy finally turning the corner. While we were all transfixed by Facebook's IPO filing, the number crunchers at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) discovered that in January, the U.S. economy added 243,000 jobs — a very significant improvement over the really quite good December number of 200,000. This was enough to shave another 0.2 pecent off the unemployment rate, bringing it down to 8.3 percent from December's 8.5 percent.

Oh, and about the December numbers: They were even better than initially reported. The BLS revised them, as it does for the previous month with each new month, to 203,000 from 200,000. Is it right to get excited about 3,000 new jobs? Given how intractable the unemployment crisis has been, you'd have to say "Heck yeah!"

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U.S. GDP growth is revised lower, but that's no reason to panic — yet

Should have gotten to this yesterday, but better late than never. And just in time for Black Friday, the traditional kickoff for the holiday shopping season!

The Bureau of Economic Analysis revised down its data for U.S. GDP growth in the third quarter. What was 2.5 percent, which was pleasantly surprising when it was announced, became 2 percent. So the economy grew in the third quarter, just not as much as was originally thought.

This isn't really a good thing — that 2.5 percent figure caught observers off guard and gave economists firm reason to believe that the economy isn't going to fall into another recession. But under the circumstances, 2 percent isn't terrible. And losing half a percentage point of GDP doesn't mean that we have to gird ourselves for a double-dip. In fact, it means that the economy continues to grow, a sign that if nothing else, unemployment won't climb higher than 9 percent.

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Stuckflation continues: 80,000 new jobs in October does not a recovery make

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Unemployment in America grinds on as job seekers confront a weak recovery.

The BLS released October employment numbers this morning, and the numbers were disappointing. We were looking for around 100,000 new jobs, but we got only 80,000. The pattern for the past few months has been for a low number to be revised up. August, for example, came in at zero (yes, zero) but was later revised up, as was September.

So that's the silver lining. Taking revised data into account, we added about 100,000 more jobs than the BLS originally thought at the end of the summer and into the early fall. 

Altogether, this was enough to shave 0.1 percent off the unemployment level: we went from 9.1 to 9.0 (Hooray, U.S. economy!). Obviously, this is a dismal pace of improvement, unlikely to do much at all to bring the economy back to "full" employment of around 4 percent anytime soon. 

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Let the battle begin: Stagflation or 'Stuckflation'?

This CNBC video features the musings of Barry James, who manages the James Golden Rainbow Fund, which "seeks to provide total return through a combination of growth and income and preservation of capital in declining markets." More to the point, Barry was asked to consider whether we're currently experiencing a replay of the 1970s, a decade that will be forever known for "Saturday Night Fever," the Bicentennial, punk rock...and stagflation, a scary economic phenomenon that combines low growth and high inflation.

We certainly have the low growth part right now, even though the third quarter 2011 data showed that U.S. GDP was 2.5 percent, much better than expected. The high inflation side, on the other hand, hasn't really materialized. Our current rate is 3.9 percent, just slightly above the historic average of 3.38 percent. And this is with the Federal Reserve pouring money into the economy.

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