Breaking down the monthly BLS job report
Below are the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports on “The Employment Situation” — the bureau’s term for the monthly jobs report.
Each report provides data on the month prior (September’s report covers August numbers, for example), and numbers are regularly adjusted in future reports.
3.8% unemployment rate187,000 jobs added
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose 187,000 in August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, though the unemployment rate rose to 3.8%, the highest it has been in over a year — reflecting a “noisy” report amid labor strikes, economists said.
While the big picture currently looks largely positive, according to Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, some indicators may be signaling potential pitfalls for the economy in coming months.
“Beneath the surface there were large downward revisions to June and July’s already low jobs gains suggesting that the labor market is on shakier foundations than the previously assumed glide path,” Aaron Terrazas, chief economist for Glassdoor, wrote in a post.
But wages have continued to slow down, said Indeed’s Head Economist Nick Bunker, which may assuage fears of a wage-price spiral.
“A slowdown is welcome,” Bunker said in a statement. “It’s the only way to go the distance.”
Released Sept. 1, 2023
3.5% unemployment rate187,000 jobs added
Total nonfarm payroll rose by 187,000 jobs in July and the unemployment rate fell slightly to 3.5%; this points potentially to a “soft landing” for the economy in the wake of recession fears, economists said.
Wage growth continued to tick down, but it also hovered at 4.4% over the year — likely not low enough to indicate new balance in the labor market, Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor’s lead economist, said in a blog post.
Notably, prime-age employment continued to rise. The employment-to-population ratio for that age group hit 80.9%, the highest since 2001, Julia Pollak, chief economist for ZipRecruiter, said in a statement.
“After months of hand wringing about recession risks, today’s report shows a job market that continues to slow in an orderly fashion,” Zhao wrote in a blog post.
Released Jan. 6, 2023
3.6% unemployment rate209,000 jobs added
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 209,000 jobs in June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, signaling a jobs market that – while moving slightly below expectations – remains healthy despite attempts to slow it. The unemployment rate dropped slightly to 3.6% from 3.7%.
Workers are rejoining the labor force, particularly women, the report found; women’s participation rate set an “all-time high” for the third straight month, said Nick Bunker, head of economic research at Indeed Hiring Lab.
Whether the worst of the economic downturn has been avoided is still up for debate, however.
“Midway through 2023, the economy has performed better than the worst case scenarios – good news that will likely do little to quiet fears that the worst has been delayed rather than avoided,” wrote Aaron Terrazas, chief economist at Glassdoor, in a blog post.
Released July 7, 2023
3.7% unemployment rate339,000 jobs added
Total nonfarm payroll rose by 339,000 in May, but the unemployment rate rose to 3.7%, painting a “confusing” picture of the current economy, experts said.
The household survey indicated a 440,000 increase in unemployed Americans; while the establishment survey tends to be more reliable because of its larger sample, Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, said in a statement, the household survey “has been more sensitive to the start of economic downturns.”
In context with other data, the labor market still appears strong, with high levels of demand, Nick Bunker, head of economic research at the Indeed Hiring Lab, said in a statement, but this report is also “telling [two] different stories.” Pollak also noted that the low number of weekly working hours could suggest “more slack” in the market than topline numbers may depict.
“The spike in the unemployment rate was the most troubling sign in this report,” Bunker said. “Almost half of the increase in the number of unemployed workers was due to a spike in Black unemployment. This might be statistical noise, or it could be a sign of Black workers disproportionately bearing the brunt of a rise in joblessness.”
Released June 2, 2023
3.4% unemployment rate253,000 jobs added
Nonfarm payroll rose by 253,000 in April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — a particularly high jump compared to the revised down numbers of March and February, experts said. Unemployment rate dipped to 3.4%, reaching record lows seen prior to the pandemic.
Economist reactions were mixed.
“This was not a report that anyone had hoped for, and compounds the risks the U.S. economy faces in May — including the likelihood that further interest rate hikes lie ahead,” wrote Glassdoor Chief Economist Aaron Terrazas. Downwards revisions for past reports may indicate that the market was softer than originally expected, Terrazas added.
While Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed Hiring Lab, had a more optimistic tone in his write up, he noted “it’s unclear how much longer” that optimism about the current economy can endure.
These numbers come after the Job Openings and Labor Turnover report indicated an “unambiguous” job market cooldown, which could result in a downward trend in future job reports.
Released May 5, 2023
3.5% unemployment rate236,000 jobs added
Total nonfarm payroll rose by 236,000 jobs in March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the unemployment rate inched downward to 3.5%.
Much of the growth was limited to a few industries while more industries began to shed jobs, according to analysis by ZipRecruiter, due in part to rising interest rates as the U.S. Federal Reserve Board fights to decrease inflation.
“Overall, more employers are reporting that the hiring environment is becoming slightly less competitive, making it easier to fill open positions,” Sinem Buber, lead economist at ZipRecruiter, wrote in the analysis. “The combination of slowing wage growth and rising labor supply should allow inflation to ease in the coming months.”
Notably, job search activity is also up, according to ZipRecruiter, due to layoffs prompting workers to seek out jobs with more perceived stability.
Released April 7, 2023
3.6% unemployment rate311,000 jobs gained
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 311,000 in February, outpacing expectations once again. The unemployment rate inched up to 3.6%.
“The report suggests U.S. workers are enjoying the best of both worlds — robust job growth paired with easing inflationary pressures,” Julia Pollak, chief economist for ZipRecruiter, said in a statement. “And employers have much to celebrate too, with participation picking up.”
Labor force participation indeed rose, but the ratio of job openings to unemployed workers ticked down to 1.8, signaling a labor market that is still strong but slackening, Pollak said.
Released March 10, 2023