On CNBC this morning, the talking heads pitched the new job loss figures in the most negative way. They focused on the fact that the 533,000 jobs lost (according to payroll data) were the highest in years, but they compared this absolute number with data going back to the 1970s and earlier. What's missing? The fact that the economy has close to a record number of people in the labor force. In 1974, for example, when there were high monthly job losses during the 1973-75 recession, the labor force was 92 million. Today it is 155 million, or 68 percent bigger. I don't have the monthly data handy, but I'm willing to bet that the 533K job loss is not close to the monthly percentage job losses in at least three of the months during the 1981-82 recession.
Interestingly, also, the CNBCers spent a large amount of time commenting on the 533K number and not the two tenths of a percentage point increase in the unemployment rate. The current 6.7 percent unemployment rate is still well below the 7.4 percent rate that President-elect Clinton inherited when Clinton's economic advisers were calling for a major reduction in the U.S. government's budget deficit.