By: Caroline Baum
April 8, 2013
It was the payroll-tax increase. It was the automatic spending cuts. It was Obamacare and the burden it's putting on small business.
Any other candidates to explain Friday's weak jobs report? CNBC's Jim Cramer attributed the measly 88,000 increase in non-farm payrolls in March to President Barack Obama. He said yesterday on "Meet the Press" that the White House put fear in the hearts of the U.S.'s chief executive officers with its scare-mongering over sequestration. Who knew CEOs were such a bunch of wusses?
If the reasons for March's anemic job growth were so obvious, why didn't any of these ex-post visionaries forecast it? The median estimate of the 87 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was an increase of 190,000. The huge decline in the labor-force participation rate -- nearly a half-million Americans stopped looking for work last month -- just re-enforced the tepid employment increase.
Given the variability in the monthly numbers and the direction of recent revisions (up), it's premature to draw any conclusions from one report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics explains every month that the true month-to-month change is the reported number plus or minus 100,000. That's from the source. And we take it as gospel.
The BLS publishes an additional report each month on Job Openings and Labor Turnover. In the 12 months ending in January, 52 million people found a job in the U.S., while 50 million left or lost one. That translates to more than 4 million people each month on both the hiring and the firing side. The flexibility of the U.S. labor market, even in bad times, puts the monthly net change in employment in a proper context.
Some analysts pointed to the spike in initial jobless claims in the last week of March -- also at odds with the downward trend -- as an omen of another spring swoon. The Labor Department said last week that the timing of Easter, one of those moveable feasts, often presents seasonal adjustment problems.
Probably the most ludicrous thing I heard was that Friday's report would put the kibosh on the Federal Reserve's talk of tapering its monthly asset purchases. If the Fed is making those kinds of decisions on the basis of one report, then we're in a lot more trouble than, well, the employment data suggested to those with 20/20 hindsight.