Investors were apparently encouraged by last Friday's U.S. jobs data. The stock market rallied to a new high on the news. Why? The unemployment rate remains high at 7.5 percent, but a few months ago was even worse.
We sometimes forget human beings are behind these statistics. "The unemployed" are more than a faceless mob. They're real people with real problems and real families. Today, let's look at the unemployment news with raw numbers instead of percentages.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics' baseline includes everyone in the United States age 16 or older, excepting only a few select groups like prisoners. Last month, it was 245.2 million. According to the BLS, 116.8 million of them had full-time jobs in April. Another 26.8 million held part-time jobs, including 18.9 million working part-time by choice and 7.9 million who want to work full-time, but haven't found such a job.
So we presently have 143.6 million working Americans, out of 245.2 million who theoretically could work. Where are the other 101.6 million?
Millions aren't working because they are retired, disabled, full-time students or parents with small children and a working spouse. This accounts for 87.6 million people.
This leaves 14 million "unemployed" Americans. Of these, 11.7 million were actively looking for a job in April. The remaining 2.3 million want a job, but made no effort to find one, at least in the last month.
Why not? Their circumstances vary. Some may have just left one job and will begin another one shortly. Others are sick or hospitalized. Many are waiting for the economy to improve before they search for a new job. And some may just be lazy.
In any case, the nation has 14 million unemployed people and most are not happy about it. Those who are "employed" on paper aren't always thriving and cheerful, either. Some are one lost paycheck from catastrophe.
So was the stock market wrong to rally last week? No. Improvement, however slight, is always good news. Yet for millions of individual Americans and their families, the hard times continue. They can't celebrate yet.
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