Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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March 7, 2014

A look at US job market on eve of February data

(Continued)

Still, the economy has endured cold streaks before during the recovery. It averaged fewer than 71,000 added jobs a month between December 2010 and January 2011. It averaged 99,000 for two months in mid-2012. The question is whether job growth for the rest of 2014 can elevate the pace of hiring to at least last year's average.

— UNEMPLOYMENT RATE

At 6.6 percent, the rate is the lowest it's been in more than five years. That should be cause for celebration. The Federal Reserve had once said the economy might be weaned off its stimulus of near-zero short-term interest rates once unemployment fell to 6.5 percent. At that point, the gravitational pull of the recovery was supposed to be enough to propel growth. Not anymore.

What happened? The unemployment rate has become somewhat misleading. That's because lots of Americans have stopped looking for work in the past few years. Once people without a job stop looking for one, they're no longer counted as unemployed. When fewer people are counted as unemployed, the rate will fall.

Some of these people have retired. Some have abandoned a futile hunt for work. Or have returned to school. The share of people either working or looking for work dipped to 63 percent in January from 66 percent at the end of 2007, when the recession began.

Compared with before the recession, 1.35 million more people fall into a category of Americans who say they want a job but aren't actively seeking one. If you count them, the unemployment rate in January would have been 7.4 percent.

— LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYED

One of the recovery's frustrating failures has been the inability of people who've been out of work for at least six months to find a job. These long-term unemployed number around 3.6 million. Their number has declined by more than 1 million over the past year, but they still account for a high 36 percent of all unemployed Americans.

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