The Columbus Dispatch reported today on the September employment and labor market stats for the Columbus metro area. These are drawn from two independent surveys — one directed at households (Did you work last month?) and one directed at business establishments (How many people did you employ last month?). The results from these two surveys are not always consistent but last month they were. Once the totals are adjusted for the fact that summer jobs ended and people went back to school, they show that the labor market improved: 3,600 net new jobs in the region, 5,900 more residents working, and 4,200 more people in the labor force. The seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate ticked down to 7.7% from 7.9%. (Ohio and the U.S. both held steady at 9.1%.)
It is easy to get much more excited about these results than we should. There is a great deal of bounce from month to month in these numbers; they are drawn from distressingly small samples and localized through econometric alchemy (don’t ask). The 3,600-job gain in September only partially offset a 6,000-job loss the month before. For the year so far, we are up only 1,100 net jobs — slower growth than last year. There are some bright spots: construction has added 3,000 jobs since last December; financial activities are up 3,200; business services are up 1,600 (two-thirds of that in IT firms); and retail is up 1,400. But leisure is down 2,300 jobs; government is down 2,000; and healthcare and private education are off 2,100. (In this last case, the news is not quite so bad: education and healthcare stumbled badly late last year and early this and is now recovering nicely.)
What we need (among other things) is for the European debt situation to be resolved — Europe is a major market for U.S. goods and services — and for consumer and business confidence to improve. Barring some unexpected burst of very good news, that will take time.