BLS "Phantom" Workers Now Account for 56% of Payroll Increase

By: Paul Kasriel | Tue, Jul 10, 2007
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Each month the Bureau of Labor Statistics attempts to estimate how many jobs were created (or eliminated) by smaller businesses not yet included in its survey of employers. This estimate is referred to as the "birth/death" adjustment. In the 12 months ended June, total-not-seasonally-adjusted nonfarm payrolls increased by 1.982 million. During the same interval, the birth/death adjustment contributed 1.111 million jobs to the total. That is, in the 12 months ended June, the birth/death adjustment accounted for 56.0% of the 12-month increase in total nonfarm payrolls.

What has been happening to the relative contribution of birth/death estimates as the economy has slowed in the past year? The chart below shows that it has been rising. In the 12 months ended March 2006, the birth/death adjustment was contributing only 30.9% of the jobs to the change in nonfarm payrolls. The birth/death relative contribution has been trending higher since then. Notice that as the birth/death contribution to nonfarm payrolls has been trending higher, the percentage of small businesses saying that now is a good time to expand their operations has been trending lower. If existing small business managers do not think now is a good time to expand their operations, does it make sense that there are a lot of new small businesses starting up and hiring?

Chart 1

Perhaps because the birth/death adjustment is not, itself, adjusted for the phase of the business cycle the economy is in, it is biasing upward the growth in nonfarm payrolls now. Perhaps the birth/death adjustment is the answer to the Fed's latest conundrum with regard to stronger-than-expected payroll growth given the sharp slowing in real GDP growth.



Paul Kasriel

Author: Paul Kasriel

Paul L. Kasriel
Director of Economic Research
The Northern Trust Company
Economic Research Department
Positive Economic Commentary
"The economics of what is, rather than what you might like it to be."
50 South LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois 60675

Paul Kasriel

Paul joined the economic research unit of The Northern Trust Company in 1986 as Vice President and Economist, being named Senior Vice President and Director of Economic Research in 2000. His economic and interest rate forecasts are used both internally and by clients. The accuracy of the Economic Research Department's forecasts has consistently been highly-ranked in the Blue Chip survey of about 50 forecasters over the years. To that point, Paul received the prestigious 2006 Lawrence R. Klein Award for having the most accurate economic forecast among the Blue Chip survey participants for the years 2002 through 2005. The accuracy of Paul's 2008 economic forecast was ranked in the top five of The Wall Street Journal survey panel of economists. In January 2009, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes cited Paul as one of the few who identified early on the formation of the housing bubble and foresaw the economic and financial market havoc that would ensue after the bubble inevitably burst. Through written commentaries containing his straightforward and often nonconsensus analysis of economic and financial market issues, Paul has developed a loyal following in the financial community. The Northern's economic website was listed as one of the top ten most interesting by The Wall Street Journal. Paul is the co-author of a book entitled Seven Indicators That Move Markets.

Paul began his career as a research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He has taught courses in finance at the DePaul University Kellstadt Graduate School of Business and at the Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Paul serves on the Economic Advisory Committee of the American Bankers Association.

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