Planet Money
10:47 am
Fri February 3, 2012

Jobs: Things Are Getting Better, Faster

Originally published on Fri February 3, 2012 9:57 am

Today's big jobs report is full of good news. A few key details:

* The U.S. added 243,000 jobs last month. Manufacturing, the sector that got hit hardest during the recession, added 50,000 jobs. Construction, which also got walloped, added 21,000 jobs.

* The unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent — the lowest since February, 2009.

* A broader measure of unemployment fell to 15.1 percent. This measure includes those who have given up looking for work over the past year as well as those working part time because they can't find a full-time job.

In absolute terms, the job market is still in bad shape: Before the recession, an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent would have been viewed as a disaster. There are five million fewer U.S. jobs today than there were five years ago.

But the trend over the past few months is very promising. Not only is the economy adding jobs; the rate of job growth is accelerating. The job market is getting better, faster.

Bonus Graphic:

As of the end of last year, unemployment rate for college-educated people in their 30s and 40s was just 3 percent. For people in their early 20s without a high-school degree, the unemployment rate was 20 percent.

Which is to say that the single number usually used to describe the U.S. labor market — the unemployment rate — obscures multitudes.

You can use the chart above to see how the unemployment rate has changed over time for people of all ages and all levels of educational attainment. The chart shows annual averages through 2011. Seasonally-adjusted monthly data aren't available at this level of detail.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.