Friday’s jobs report showed that the economy lost almost 2.7 million jobs between December 2011 and January 2012. That’s pretty good for a January. In the world of labor statistics and seasonal adjustments it translates into a gain of 243,000 jobs. How does that work? The Job loss of 2.02% in January of 2012 was better than what we have seen recently. If we exclude the change from December 2008 to January 2009, at the depths of the recession, the average December to January change since 2006 was a decline in employment of 2.11%.
We learned on Friday that employment is 9/100 of one percent higher than it would be have been if January 2012 was like the typical January in recent years. With total employment in the U.S. of approximately 130 million, this means there were 117,000 more people working in January than we would have otherwise expected.
What does this mean for our economic outlook? It could be that employment was slightly higher due to an unusually mild winter. It could be that fewer seasonal workers were hired heading into the holidays and laid off in January. The January employment declines in retail and leisure and hospitality were unusually modest; 3.4% compared to the typical 3.6% decline. These two industries account for half of the 117k additional jobs.
Friday’s jobs report may be signaling that the labor market recovery is accelerating as we head into 2012. Or it may indicate that consumer spending was a little higher during an unusually mild January. If the latter is correct we should be prepared for smaller than usual employment gains as we head from winter into spring.