The latest jobs report from the BLS is one of those weird times when the unemployment rate falls even while the overall report is not positive. All of this stems from this strange and uneven recovery from the COVID-19 recession in 2020.
Let's start with the good. The graph below shows the unemployment rate over the past 5 years. The latest data shows a 0.4% drop to just 4.8% in September. Normally, this would be heralded as great news.
Now, let's look at jobs growth by graphing total nonfarm employment. In September, nonfarm employment rose by 194,000. This would often be considered solid growth. But right now, we are recovering from a drastic drop in overall employment. Given the plunge in total jobs in 2020, this level of growth is just not enough to get us back to a healthy level of jobs anytime soon. In the graph below, you can see that jobs growth is slowing and that we still have 5 million jobs to add before we are back to the pre-pandemic level of employment.
Students might wonder how such a significant drop in the unemployment rate can be viewed as anything but great news. It can help to show the labor force participation rate (LFPR). In September, the LFPR actually fell, from 61.7% to 61.6% (see graph below). This is especially concerning as we are recovering from the huge drop in employment and firms are struggling to find workers.
It's always good for the unemployment rate to drop 0.4 percentage points. This means that people who are actively looking for work are having an easier time securing a new job. But it is hard to rejoice in this economy right now with so many sitting on the sidelines and employers having difficulty luring them into the labor market. It will be interesting to follow these trends over the next few months.