Have all the lost jobs finally returned?


SALEM, Ore., April 6, 2014 — The Labor Department’s March jobs report shows that the number of private-sector jobs has finally returned to 2008 levels. However, this does not mean that all the jobs lost in the Great Recession have finally been recovered.

Left out of the media stories are other data from Friday’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) monthly jobs report. These are more revealing than just one number.

Private-sector job growth always gets top billing, but it is only a subset of the total jobs picture in the United States. There are other important indicators of job creation and availability:

  • Public-sector employment
  • Total nonfarm jobs
  • Total civilian employment
  • Population growth

Last month, private-sector employment beat its pre-recession level by 110,000 jobs. That’s good news. However, most other measures of job recovery are less positive.

The most inclusive jobs tally of all, total civilian employment, indicates that the United States has a long way to go before it returns back to full employment.

Public-sector employment

BLS: Monthly jobs report for March 2014
BLS: Data  from the monthly jobs report for March 2014

There are 738,000 fewer public-sector workers than in January of 2009, before the recession. The 500,000 temporary census worker spike in 2010 is not counted. If it were, public-sector job losses would be much greater.

A fascinating fact about public-sector employment over the last 10 years is that President George W. Bush, a Republican, presided over a an expansion of big government employment while President Obama, a Democrat, has presided over a reduction in government employment.

A maximum of 748,000 public-sector jobs were lost in the recession between January 2009 and July 2013. The public-sector has just barely begun its recovery.

Total nonfarm jobs

There are 437,000 fewer total nonfarm jobs today than in January 2008, even after accounting for the 110,000 more private-sector jobs being touted in the media right now.

Total nonfarm jobs from the employer survey is the sum of private-sector and public-sector jobs.

Maximum nonfarm jobs losses in the recession were 8.7 million between January 2008 and February 2010.

Total civilian employment

Worst of all, there are 853,000 fewer people employed today in the United States than before the start of the recession in November of 2007.

The BLS conducts two job tally surveys each month. One is the employer survey, the other is the population survey. This final employment tally comes from the more comprehensive population survey. It is calculated from 60,000 direct-contact monthly interviews.

The population survey job total doesn’t get as much publicity as total nonfarm jobs because it has a larger error estimate. However, it is used to calculate the all-important unemployment rate.

Private-sector employment, on the other hand, comes from the smaller employer survey. It tallies employment records that businesses are required to submit each month. The employer survey accounts for about 138 million jobs. Private-sector employment alone accounts for only 116 million.

The population survey, though, accounts for 146 million jobs. Neither survey includes military personnel.

Oddly, considering it is a bigger survey, the maximum number of total civilian job losses in the recession were 7.6 million between November 2007 and November 2010. That’s 1.1 million fewer jobs lost than reported for nonfarm jobs.

Population growth

Since November of 2007 the working age population in the United States has grown by 14.3 million, according to this month’s BLS jobs report.

The population survey collects that and other data that’s used to calculate the unemployment  rate.


The sobering reality is there are 854,000 fewer jobs today, despite that there are 14.3 million more working-age Americans than in November of 2007.

In essence, the better part of a million more jobs still need to be created before catch-up is complete. Today, though, there are 14.3 million more working age Americans than at the start of the recession.

Given that, it’s no wonder long-term unemployment is so high and that President Obama’s job creation plan has degenerated into extending long-term unemployment benefits and raising wages for those lucky enough to have jobs.

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  • Abani Patel

    I’m one of those “missing” workers. Lost my job in 2009, haven’t been able to find another that’s even close to comparable. Was doing some part time work, but lost that when my husband had to travel for 2 weeks- no one to watch the kids after school and frankly, the money wasn’t worth it. There’s no part time work available right now, because there are hundreds of people like me in my area. So, I’m now back in school to learn something new. Haven’t even hit 30 yet.

    We eat ramen, rice, and beans for every meal. I can’t afford health insurance. I don’t drive much cause I can’t afford gas. I have bare minimum $19/month car insurance (from Insurance Panda). I cut cable/internet and share one with my neighbor. I haven’t been put to eat or to the movies in god know’s how long.

    How is that HOPE & CHANGE working out for ya?

    • Steve Davidson

      Sadly, your story is similar to many millions more. The Great Recession isn’t Obama’s fault. His ineffective response to it is.