The January employment report was a complete snow job. Abominable winter blizzards across the country caused 886,000 workers to report “not at work due to bad weather,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is 600,000 more than the normal 300,000 not at work for the average January of the past decade.
So the bad weather has distorted the numbers. The actual 36,000 increase in nonfarm payrolls and the 50,000 gain in private payrolls really don’t have a snowball’s chance at being accurate. The 1 million people in January who wanted a job but didn’t look for one because of “other” reasons hints again at the bad-weather distortion. So does the 4.9 million jump in the part-time workforce.
As for the 9 percent unemployment rate, it’s not likely to last as more people are recorded reentering the labor force in the months ahead. The household employment survey (on which the unemployment rate is based) increased 117,000 in January, following a near 300,000 gain in December.
On the plus side (if anything can be believed in these numbers), average hourly earnings increased by four-tenths of 1 percent -- a much bigger gain than in recent months. Over the past year, wages are rising 1.9 percent.
But here’s a key point: Manufacturing jobs in January rose by nearly 50,000. That’s consistent with the blowout ISM manufacturing report for January published a few days ago. Manufacturing has been the biggest surprise in the recovery. Additionally, the ISM non-manufacturing services report was also gangbusters for January.
These reports are more accurate and more significant than today’s jobs calculation. And if you piece them together with record-breaking profits, which are the mother’s milk for stocks, business, and the whole economy, it’s hard not to conclude that the pace of recovery is actually picking up steam -- despite the lackluster jobs performance.