How much impact will the October jobs report have on the upcoming presidential election? Probably not much. In some ways, the tragic events in the Northeast from Hurricane Sandy and discussions around the upcoming fiscal cliff are likely to overshadow this lackluster jobs report as it generally just showed things are improving, albeit slowly.
The national unemployment rates remained virtually unchanged at 7.9 percent and the economy added 171,000 jobs, which was better than the predicted 125,000, but still not enough to make a real dent in the recessionary effects felt in the labor market.
The Good News
While it is true the unemployment rate ticked up very slightly, this increase was largely driven by more people entering the labor force. This shows a higher level of optimism among Americans as they are once again throwing their hat into the employment ring.
October's unemployment rate also shows that September's rate, which was the lowest it had been in more than three years, was not a statistical anomaly. Instead, it appears we are entering a period of lower unemployment and can only hope it continues to improve.
A further sign of optimism is the number of discouraged workers (those who have given up looking for a job because they feel there are none available). The number of discouraged workers in October's job report (813,000) was slightly higher than the previous month (802,000), but significantly lower than early 2012 (about 1 million). Opportunities previously thought to be lost are once again being pursued.
The number of jobs added beat all predictions. Additionally, both the August and September job numbers were revised upwards for a combined increase of 84,000 jobs. The sectors that experienced the largest increases were professional and business services (+51,000), retail trade (+36,000) and health care (+31,000).
These industries were also ones that experienced wage growth in the last year, according to The PayScale Index. Professional services experienced annual wage growth of 4 percent, while retail and health care were closer to 3 percent.
The Bad News
While the number of jobs added is encouraging, it is not enough to bring employment even near pre-recession levels. Even if the economy added 171,000 jobs every month, we are still looking at a slow recovery. To drive this point further, October proved to be the 25th straight month of job gains, but the number of unemployed still stands at more than 12 million people -- a far cry from the pre-recession level of about 7 million.
Additionally, of this 12.3 million, a little more than 5 million have been unemployed for more than six months. This rate of long-term unemployment is looking better than it has in the last few years, but it is more than double the amount experienced in 2008.
In addition to the 12.3 million unemployed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found 8.3 million workers are underemployed (working part-time for economic reasons). Therefore, altogether, those searching for a job are competing with more than 20 million people -- not only those with no job who are actively searching but also those who want a better/full-time job.
Furthermore, the majority of jobs added since the downturn have been lower-wage jobs, while the majority of jobs lost were middle-wage jobs, as found in research from the National Employment Law Project.
Obama wants the chance to continue this job growth, while Romney wants the chance to improve upon it. Who is going to get the opportunity to work on the economy come Tuesday? PayScale users generally believe it will be Obama, according to our recent polls. Only four more days and we'll see if they were correct.
Katie Bardaro is the lead economist and data analytics manager for PayScale.com.
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