The government released its latest snapshot of the job market this morning. The headline figures showed no change in the unemployment rate (remained at 6.7%) while the economy added 192,000 jobs. However, once one digs into the details, the report was stronger than the headlines indicate (based on recent standards).
The employment-population ratio rose to 58.9%, the highest rate since August 2009. The year-over-year increase (0.4%) was the largest since January 2007. In addition, the labor force participation rose to 63.2%, the highest since September 2013. The year-over-year decline (-0.1%) was tied for the smallest since October 2008 (the last time it increased over a 12-month period). OK, this isn't great news, but it suggests that the participation rate may be stabilizing and employment growth is finally outpacing population growth (both are indications of a strengthening job market).
Private employment is at its highest level ever (finally exceeding its pre-recession level), though total employment is still 437,000 below its January 2008 high (due to a decline in government employment). In addition to the gains in employment, hours worked also increased. Total hours worked for all employees (not the average work week) is now slightly higher than right before the recession (up 0.1% since November 2007, though slightly lower than early 2008). New highs for total hours worked were achieved in education/health (up 10% from Nov 2007), professional/business services (up 8.5%) and leisure/hospitality (up 8%). Lagging industries include construction, which is down 20% since the start of the recession, but reaching the highest level since March 2009, and manufacturing, which is down 10% from the start of the recession but at its highest level since December 2008.
What are the key takeaways? The labor market is showing signs of real improvement, though still not as much as most would like. The job market has recovered most of the ground lost during the recession, but population has increased quite a bit since then, so it is still far from being a strong job market.