Hefferlin: If Oil Keeps Plunging, Employment Should Pick Up

Aug 3, 2008
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Jonathan R. Hefferlin, managing director at MRI Dana Point, a former radio commentator and a prescient observer of economic trends, gives his weekend take on Friday’s jobs report.

There is renewed economic clatter with unemployment up by 0.2 to 5.7%, like there was a couple of months ago when it rose from 5 to 5.5%. We know the real number is higher, not counting folks whose benefits ran out before then found a job (an estimated + 4 million), which makes the true figure closer around 8%.

Betcha didn’t know that government stats only count those who are currently collecting unemployment and looking — a reported 1.6 million last month. 570,000 more, forced into part time work against their will, aren’t counted.

For all these shortcomings, you could at least use the 5.7% as an indication, until recent months. The entire rise from 5% can be attributed to the extension of unemployment benefits by three months, earlier this year. Had this not happened, the number we have learned to watch and love would be still 5% or less, as folks who used to be dropped off the rolls after six months are still counted.

Clarification might be found in lost jobs — 85,000 a month in Q1 vs. a recessionary 180,000 rate in 2001; 59,000 during Q2, and only 51,000 jobs lost in July, which was the 1st month in eight previous numbers weren’t revised downward. So the economy, which grew at a 1.9% rate in Q2 (0.5% of that $78 billion in stimilus checks thru June) vs 1% in Q1, proved amazingly resilient to $4.50 gas, $5 diesel, the credit implosion, and housing bubble.

If the plunge in oil prices continues, coupled with a weak dollar and the surge in bargain repoed home buying, the employment picture should continue to show some signs of hope.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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