Employment picture brightens

Employment picture brightens

There are lies, egregiously bad lies and statistics.

Conflicting jobs numbers tell different stories on the status of the U.S. economy.

But, as best can be divined, circumstances continue to improve on one of the most important barometers that measure American prosperity — the employment front.

But how can that be when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that payrolls fell by 33,000 in September — meaning 33,000 fewer people were getting paychecks? Estimates were that the economy would gain 90,000 jobs, not lose 33,000.

It's the first monthly decline in jobs in seven years, way back to 2010, when this country was still flat on its economic back in the aftermath of the near-collapse of the banking and real-estate industries in 2008-09.

Economists attributed the job losses as an outgrowth of the hurricanes that closed thousands of businesses in Texas, Florida and other parts of the Southeast. They said they expect hiring to rebound as companies reopen and bring back workers and construction firms ramp up repair and renovation work.

Since 2008-09, the economy has steadily recovered, though at a glacial pace. But small monthly improvements add up to sizable gains over time.

That's why the federal government is reporting some good news as well: The unemployment rate fell to a 16-year low of 4.2 percent in September.

In previous months, the declining unemployment rate has disguised the bad news of disappointingly low labor-force participation rates.

Those who have become discouraged about gaining employment and who are no longer looking are not counted in official unemployment numbers. But they're just as unemployed as those who haven't yet given up on the hope of finding a job.

So labor participation is crucial. Now the government is reporting that it has increased to 63.1 percent, still too low but the highest it's been since 2014.

Here's another statistic that's disturbing but that is improving. The number of discouraged nonworkers as well as those working part time for economic reasons fell from 8.6 percent to 8.3 percent, the lowest since 2007.

Hourly wages also increased at an annual rate of nearly 3 percent, perhaps reflecting heightened competition for employees by employers.

Things definitely are not where people would like to be. The best possible situation is for everyone who can work to find a job, a utopian concept but still a worthy goal. So there's still a long way to go, but the progress has been unmistakable.

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