As a resident skeptic at CNBC, I take pride in being able to sift through upbeat government economic reports and cry "bull you-know-what," often without breaking a sweat.
But looking through the July jobs report, it's really hard to find much to gripe about.
First and foremost, divining relevance from these data releases usually requires one to dismiss the headline numbers. So when I see something like "255,000 new jobs and a 4.9 percent unemployment rate," my first reaction is usually, "so what?"
What is the quality of jobs? Are wages rising or falling? What's happening with the labor force? Have more people left it? Are the jobs part time or full time? I even like looking at metrics like the "diffusion index," which measures the percentage of companies hiring against those either stagnating or decreasing payrolls.
In short, I pretty much geek out on these reports the way it is, but especially so when it comes to the nonfarm payrolls numbers released the first Friday of each month. (If you don't believe in my abilities to deconstruct and demolish these reports, go here and here and here.)
The latest report, though, was a personal disappointment, which is to say it was really hard to find much wrong.
The professions where jobs were added looked pretty good. Yes, services dominated again with 70,000, but it's important to know that not all service-sector jobs are created equal. In July, 37,400 of the total came from professional and technical jobs, including 8,200 for computer systems design, another 6,500 from architectural and engineering services and 5,600 in management and technical consulting.
Elsewhere, health-care hiring jumped by 43,000, bringing to 477,000 the new jobs created in the field over the past 12 months, more than six years after Obamacare was put in place. Despite the onerous Dodd-Frank regulations, Wall Street jobs continued to grow, adding 18,000 in the past month and 162,000 over the past year.
There are still way too many Americans out of the labor force, but even that number is moving in the right direction, with a decline of 375,000 over the past two months to a still-hefty 94.3 million. During that period, the size of the civilian labor force has increased by a whopping 821,000 — including 407,000 in July — to 159.3 million, according to the household survey.
Establishment data point to still more positive trends, with the three-month average now up to 190,000 from 153,000 in June and average weekly earnings up 0.6 percent from the previous month, though little changed over the last year.
If you want to look for areas to criticize, there are still the old chestnuts about overall wage gains of 2.6 percent annualized, which is still just OK, and the growth of people working part time for economic reasons. The underemployed grew by 97,000 in the past month, but even that cohort has fallen considerably in the longer term, declining from 6.3 million a year before to 5.9 million now, for a 6.3 percent drop.
But the full-time to part-time measure is weighted pretty heavily toward the former: 306,000 versus 150,000 in July, helping to continue the reversal of a part-time trend that had dominated the earlier part of the recovery
And that aforementioned "diffusion rate" that shows what percentage of companies are hiring? It's a solid 63.7 for private (compared to 46.9 in May) and 54.4 for manufacturing, up from 39.9 in May and 50 a year ago.
Of course, my Twitter feed has been populated by those who still think the jobs market stinks and accuse the media and the government of reporting bogus numbers. A representative view:
No doubt, as well that the jobs climate will continue to be a thorny political issue, regardless of two good months of numbers. Here's one take:
And the comments section below will be populated by folks who think I've finally lost it.
But the July jobs report was pretty good. We'll see what the future holds.