What the BLS Report Says about the Economic Recovery

Print Share on LinkedIn More


May 3, 2013; Bureau of Labor Statistics

It may seem that some at Nonprofit Quarterly see the dark cloud surrounding every silver lining, but regarding the jobs report that the Bureau of Labor Statistics released last week, we see lots of issues that don’t seem to add up to a robust economic recovery—or a recovery at all, in some instances. We know what that means: As federal and state programs for job placement and job training stagnate due to cascading budget cuts, the challenge of addressing the impacts of unemployment and underemployment fall to nonprofit sector service deliverers. Here’s what struck us:

  • Although the overall unemployment rate inched down by 0.1 percent between March and April, the unemployment rate for men 20 and older increased 0.2 percent.
  • Unemployment for teenagers 16–19 in the labor market decreased, but only to 24.1 percent.
  • The unemployment rate for blacks or African-Americans is almost double that of whites—13.2 percent compared to 6.7 percent. 
  • The number of employed people who work part-time for economic reasons (slack work conditions or the inability to find full-time work) increased from 7,638,000 in March to 7,916,000 in April, a change of 3.6 percent.
  • The average weekly hours of all employed persons declined from 36.6 to 36.4, and the average weekly earnings for all workers dropped from $824.52 to $821.13 (for production and non-supervisory employees, a decline from $677.35 to $676.02).
  • The number of people holding multiple jobs has increased over the past year, from 6,947,000 in April 2012 to 7,029,000 in April 2013, though still only 4.9 percent of the total number of people employed. The number of people holding two part-time jobs (as opposed to a primary full-time job and a part-time secondary job) also increased.
  • Persons not in the labor force have risen from 88,879,000 a year ago to 90,436,000 last month.
  • The civilian labor force participation rate clocked in at 63.3 percent, the lowest it has been since January 2003 and probably long before that.

Notwithstanding the fact that the New York Stock Exchange skyrocketed after the BLS report, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly topping a record 15,000 on Friday, it looks to us like an economic recovery based on the withdrawal of people from the labor force, employed people increasingly relying on part-time work, and employed persons below top managerial levels taking home less money overall because they get fewer paid hours of work.

We ask our NPQ Newswire readers: As nonprofits, were your reactions to the BLS report, like those of the buyers and sellers on the NYSE, overwhelmingly positive toward the economic news, or are you a little suspicious (as we are) that the economy’s good news relies on a lot of bad news for wage earners?—Rick Cohen