Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

About that jobs report...maybe it wasn't so great

Deep dig into labor participation numbers
Deep dig into labor participation numbers

While the numbers may change, the story of the U.S. labor market ultimately is the same. Job growth continues, but significant weakness remains.

Friday's nonfarm payroll report was the best in months, with 288,000 new jobs and an unemployment rate dropping all the way down to 6.3 percent.

The internals were somewhat less impressive.

The headline rate fell due to a stunning decline in the labor force, the quality of new jobs remained iffy and long-term unemployment is still immune to ultra-easy monetary policy as the average length of joblessness holds at more than 35 weeks.

A jobs sign is seen on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Building in Washington.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

"The unemployment rate, which fell to 6.3 percent in April from 6.7 percent the prior month, wholly masks the extent of the problem," University of Maryland economist Peter Morici said in an analysis. "The percentage of adults seeking employment dropped precipitously. One out of 6 men between the ages of 25 and 54 are without jobs, and many have given up looking for work and are not counted in the jobless rate."

Read MorePayrolls jump in April as thaw hits jobs market

Among his peers, though, Morici largely stood alone.

Virtually every other economist weighing in on the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics focused on the positives, seeing the report as indicative of continued healing in the U.S. economy as it travels the long road back from the 2008-09 financial crisis.

PNC economists Stuart Hoffman and Gus Faucher called the report "solid" and predicted revisions probably would take the April numbers past the 300,000 barrier, and there were few voices to dispute the jobs momentum.

"The nature of the crisis was such that the economy was bound to have a restrained expansion. Too much wealth was destroyed," Princeton economist Alan Krueger told The jobs report "suggests that the economy is going to continue to heal and gather a little momentum despite the weak first-quarter GDP numbers."

Indeed, gross domestic product for the first three months tracked at a tepid 0.1 percent and some economists think the final number actually will be negative.

Read MoreHiring rebounds but more gave up looking for work

As for the labor market, job growth has proceeded apace at 190,000 per month over the past 12 months, and nearly 238,000 for the past three months. In fact, the recent reports pretty well refute the notion that the brutal winter weather was slowing down the economy. Job creation, the numbers show, actually has been well ahead of the former pace.

Yet many are being left behind.

The fall in the labor force participation rate was especially pronounced among minorities and teenagers. The total civilian labor force fell by 806,000. Those working part time for economic reasons remained little changed at 7.5 million. There were 783,000 discouraged workers, a number that has moved very little over the past year.

Bonds & stocks react to jobs number
Bonds & stocks react to jobs number

The household survey actually showed a decline of 73,000 positions.

Quality of jobs was another problem.

Read MoreHatzius: This is a 'glass half full' jobs report

Professional and business services led the way with 75,000 new positions. But generally low-paying retail was next at 35,000, while bars and restaurants added 33,000. There were another 15,000 health-care jobs but in personal and laundry services.

It all added up to no change in hourly earnings and the average workweek and is part of a larger trend that the National Employment Law Project called "a pattern that has persisted deep into the nation's rebound."

"It's looking more and more like the low-wage economy is the new normal," NELP policy analyst Mike Evangelist said in a report that highlighted the extent of the problem.

According to the group, low-wage jobs accounted for 22 percent of the jobs lost during the crisis but twice that many gains during the recovery. High-wage positions represented 41 percent of the job losses but just 30 percent of the growth. The NELP contrasted that with the recovery after the 2001 recession, where all groups grew uniformly.

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For the Federal Reserve, then, the report likely does nothing to move policy. The central bank will continue on its road of decreasing monthly bond purchases but holding its key policy rate near zero. The Fed already has given up on its old yardstick of 6.5 percent unemployment to begin raising rates, and the uneven internals of the report probably will only fortify that position.

"All of this leaves the Fed on its super-slow exit path," Michelle Meyer, U.S. economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in a note to clients. "They want a full healing and that means getting the unemployment rate below 6 percent and getting wage growth back to normal. Today's data helped us move toward the first goal, but we actually took a small step back on the second goal."