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How Job-findings, Not Job-loss, Explain Unemployment

Steven Greenhouse at the Times does a nice job putting a sunny spin on the job situation:

Since November, the nation has lost more than three million jobs.

But not everyone knows the brighter side to the equation: deep in the maw of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, millions are still being hired.

So, while 4.8 million workers were laid off or chose to leave their jobs in February, employers across the country hired 4.3 million workers that month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Focusing on job churn isn't only helpful as a mental pick-me-up for the unemployed, but it turns out that the job finding-rate can explain a big chunk of employment flows over the business cycle. Examining data from 1948 to 2007, University of Chicago economist Robert Shimer found that changes in the job-finding rate can explain as much as 75% of the movements in the unemployment rate. (Though more recent work from the Philadelphia Fed puts the figure at closer to 50%).

What this means is that the main force behind why the unemployment rate rises during downturns is not that people are losing work, but -- as put by Stanford's Robert Hall -- "unemployment rises almost entirely because jobs become harder to find."

The latest data from the BLS show that the (private sector) hires rate was 3.7% in February, down from a cycle peak of 4.6% in July 2006.

For those who want to keep track of these figures, don't look for them in Friday's jobs report, but in the BLS's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey slated for May 12.

-- Zubin Jelveh