By James Pethokoukis
Any way you slice or dice it, the April jobs report was terrible—and terribly disappointing. Employers added just 115,000 workers to their payrolls last month, way below the 180,000 Wall Street economists were expecting. Hiring has now slowed in three straight months. Job growth in March and April averaged 135,000, down from an average 252,000 per month in the three months to February. As IHS Global Insight explains: “Prior job gains at over 200,000 per month were inconsistent with the modest pace of recovery in overall output – GDP was up only 2.2% in the first quarter. It now appears that jobs have decelerated into line with GDP, rather than GDP accelerating to catch up with jobs.”
And JPMorgan put it this way: “The April employment report was softer than expected and signaled a downshift in labor market momentum.”
Sure, the official unemployment rate dipped a tenth of a point lower to 8.1%, but that’s only because people continue to drop out of the workforce at an alarming pace. That workforce shrinkage, as measured by the labor force participation rate, totally distorts the true unemployment picture. In fact, the participation rate is now at its lowest level since 1981! (For comparison purposes, the economy added 480,000 jobs back in April 1984, during the Reagan recovery.)
So what is the true state of the labor market?