One of the main reasons for containing our joy is that the rate fell from 7 percent in November despite the addition of just 74,000 net new jobs, a weak performance by any measure – and far below the 2013 monthly average of 182,000 new jobs. Another reason for caution is that the standard unemployment measure (U-3) provides a distorted picture of what’s taking place in the job market.
A better measure of the health of the job market is total employment: how many people have jobs. After all, it is employment that contributes to our well-being. Jobs, not unemployment, produce the goods, services and earnings that our families rely on. And on this front the picture is grim by historical standards, with 2 million fewer civilians working at the end of 2013 than at the end of 2007, when the economy began to tank.
But even this doesn’t tell the full story, because while the economy and job market have been struggling, the population has been growing. This means that a smaller percentage of the job-eligible civilian population – that is, non-institutionalized individuals age 16 and older – has jobs.