Unemployment numbers: Who are these people?

The Minnesota unemployment rate dropped 0.2 percent in November, with the state adding 2,000 jobs, officials reported today. It’s good news, of course, but it falls short of “glass-half-full” status once you look beyond the headline.

First, more than 200,000 Minnesotans “officially” still can’t find a job. But beyond that, the majority of business sectors are still bleeding jobs, statistics from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development appear to suggest.

Of 12 sectors listed in the department’s estimate of current places of work, employment dropped in eight of them. These included goods-producing businesses, mining & logging, construction, manufacturing, information, professional and business services, leisure & hospitality, and “other services” (auto repair, for example).

Employment was flat in financial services. Only “trade, transportation & utilities,” “education & health,” and “government” showed increases.

In fact, it appears the fastest-growing “business” in Minnesota, is education, which increased 2.4% in one month. Can government lead us out of the recession at the same time calls are increasing for less spending by government? We’ll see.

It’s also worth noting that while the unemployment rate has gone down, the number of out-of-work people has dropped only slightly. Seasonally adjusted numbers show it’s dropped by about 7,000 people, while the number of people holding jobs increased by 20,000.

This is a glimpse into the shadowy world of unemployment numbers that’s difficult for mere mortals to understand. Where did these 13,000 people come from?

So I went to my economics expert, Paul Tosto, who writes the MinnEcon blog. He states that they might be people who “came back into the labor force.”

We do know, for instance, that people get discouraged when they can’t find work so they stop looking. Of course, that brings up another important question: Who are these people who can afford to stop looking for work?

He asked Louis Johnston, a professor of economics at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University. He says the figures do not allow for determining the underlying causes of the various shifts in numbers.

Paul is in the process of sifting through the numbers and crunching them with Johnston and others. Look for his post soon.

In the meantime, tell me your story. If you’re working, how do things “feel” at the workplace compared to recent months. Have things picked up? Are people’s moods changing? Is the boss making eye contact with you again? If you’re out of work, are you getting more interviews? Are you still looking? Is there any sign of employment life out there?

  • justacoolcat

    ” Who are these people who can afford to stop looking for work?”

    People that move back home with mom and dad, perhaps?

    Still, I’m not sure that’s exactly accurate. I think it’s more likely the case that people are looking, but since they can no longer collect unemployment they are not officially counted as “unemployed”.

    I work in software for a transportation company and things are slowly picking back up and I’ve heard from some friends that work in technology that job interviews are happening again.

    So that’s a good sign.

  • bsimon

    Where I work, we had layoffs this spring. Survivors took a pay cut. Tuesday it was announced the pay cut will be reduced by half, starting with our first 2010 paycheck. We’ll be back to 100% in April. Locally, we’ve done some hiring (we are headquartered elsewhere in the US), enough that I think we’re back to where we were with headcount before layoffs.

    Executive management says the pipeline looks good. We lagged coming into the recession (i.e. our business was hit later than others), and it looks like we’re coming out of it, which implies other businesses should be further along. Employment being a lagging indicator coupled with the calendar, I suspect Jan & Feb employment numbers – which we won’t see until late Feb & March – will show real signs of recovery.

  • Out of work, out of time

    I’m an electrical engineer with 20+ years experience.

    After three quarters of successive pay cuts, resulting in a cumulative 15% cut in salary, my employer finally had no choice but to lay off me and four of my colleagues in Oct.

    I’ve been laid off before, but I have never been out of work for more than three weeks. Now entering my third month of unemployment, with every traditional avenue of finding work exhausted, I’m heading off to learn how to drive a tow truck in hopes of stretching unemployment out until spring…when, with luck, perhaps I can get on with a landscaping crew.

    If you happen to have an “Obama” sticker on your car, do not park where you should not!

  • John

    My wfe lost her job back in the Bush administration, very early in this debacle. She has given up looking in her chosen field. After over a year, there is just nothing out there. Thanks to a frugal lifestyle including a house that is paid for, we can manage without her working. We stay home, there’s nothing extra, but we can manage. She has been applying for all sorts of jobs in and out of her field (many just part time and low paying) for over 6 months now, with not so much as a nibble. We are empty nesters. She gets depressed at times, and is bored silly. She really wants to work, but it’s just not happening. The computerized resume and employment application readers are not letting her even get an interview with a real person.