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Jobs: You NEED to Look at the Household Survey

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The analysis below covers the Employment picture released on the first Friday of every month. While most of the attention goes to the headline number, it can be helpful to look at the details, revisions, and other reports to get a better gauge of what is really going on.

Current Trends

The BLS reported a gain of 272k jobs which was above expectations. However, the trend this year has been a wildly divergent Household Survey and that continued again this month. The gap between the Household Survey and the Headline number was 680k jobs! That is a miss of -150%!

Figure: 1 Primary Report vs Household Survey – Monthly

Even with the blowout Household report from March (driven entirely by part-time jobs – Figure 6), the Household report is coming in way below the Headline number. The chart below shows that this trend has been in place for a few years but has become completely unhinged this year. YTD, Headline number is +1.29M while the Household Survey shows a YTD loss of 100k.

Figure: 2 Primary Report vs Household Survey – Annual

The BLS also publishes the data behind their Birth/Death assumptions (formation of new business). In May, the BLS assumed 231k jobs added to their birth/death assumptions. This is the second-highest percentage of assumptions relative to the total raw job gains since December and the third-highest in a year.

Figure: 3 Primary Unadjusted Report With Birth Death Assumptions – Monthly

The annual view paints an even more stark picture showing that raw jobs are 46k for the year. Without Birth/Death, that number drops to -557k because Birth/Death makes up with +603k.

Figure: 4 Primary Unadjusted Report With Birth Death Assumptions – Monthly

Digging Into the Report

The 272k jobs surprised to the upside but with the unemployment rate rising slightly to 4%.

Figure: 5 Change by sector

Another level of detail in the Household report shows full-time vs part-time job holders. While part-time had been leading the way for months, April saw a big reversal where part-time jobs were replaced by full-time jobs. Then in May, a lot of those full-time jobs disappeared.

Figure: 6 Full Time vs Part Time

Jobs by Category

A number of categories saw some big improvements compared to recent averages: Manufacturing, Professional Business, and Trade/Transport.

Figure: 7 Current vs TTM

The table below shows a detailed breakdown of the numbers.

Figure: 8 Labor Market Detail


The chart below shows how the jobs data has been revised in recent months. The bigger revisions have been to the downside, but there have been a few upward revisions.

Figure: 9 Revisions

Over the last three months, the data has been revised down by an average of 13k per month and 6.2k over 12 months. These revisions go unnoticed by the mainstream.

Figure: 10 Revisions

Historical Perspective

The chart below shows data going back to 1955.

Figure: 11 Historical Labor Market

The labor force participation rate is still well below the highs before the Global Financial Crisis. This month it stayed steady at 62.5%.

Figure: 12 Labor Market Distribution


Headline numbers continue to show moderate strength but the Household Survey tells an entirely different story. At some point, one of these two reports will catch up to the other. It seems likely that the Household Survey is more accurate and paints a more accurate picture of the labor market.

Data Source: and also series CIVPART

Data Updated: Monthly on first Friday of the month

Last Updated: May 2024

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