Friday will bring the final jobs report before Election Day, meaning that there will be plenty of talk about the new jobless rate and what it means for President Obama and Mitt Romney. The consensus estimate is for a small uptick in the unemployment rate, from 7.8 to 7.9 percent, according to Bloomberg. However, there's a lot more to the report than that one number. Below are a few more things to watch for in Friday's report.
Was Last Month for Real?
In the last report, the September jobless rate fell by a surprising 0.3 percentage points. That rate is calculated using the household survey, which along with the establishment survey supplies the data in each monthly jobs report. The household survey found that around 873,000 more Americans said they were employed in September than in August—a large bump. Establishments reported substantially fewer jobs last month, at 114,000 new workers. A divergence between the two is not in and of itself surprising: the two surveys measure slightly different things—the household survey includes self-employed and agricultural workers, for example, while the establishment survey does not. And while the figures tend to track together, they can vary widely from time to time (and it is also worth noting that the household survey's margin of error is 400,000, compared to the establishment survey's 100,000). According to one economist, October's household survey figure could give more evidence of whether September's large jump was just an anomaly.
"I'll be looking to see if that huge rise in civilian employment gets reversed at all," says Ben Herzon, senior economist at research firm Macroeconomic Advisers. "If it doesn't get reversed, I'll be inclined to think of the recent declines in the unemployment rate as real."
Who's Working Part-time?
While 873,000 more Americans may have been working in September than in August, many were not working as much as they wanted. The number of people employed "part-time for economic reasons" jumped by 582,000 in September. That takes some of the luster off of the positive report, suggesting while many Americans are finding new jobs, there are also many workers who could be working (and earning) more.
When October's report breaks at 8:30 on Friday morning, it will be worth digging into the numbers to see just how many people working part-time would rather be logging fuller work weeks.
How Big Are Paychecks?
Jobs matter not just because of the goods and services they produce but because of the money that workers take home, says Herzon.
"It's the employment and hours that ultimately become wage and salary income, and that's a driver for consumer spending and ultimately GDP," he says.
So even if employment grows, declining wages and hours can diminish some of the positive economic impact, reducing workers' disposable income. According to the Labor Department, real hourly wages in September were at their lowest point in nearly four years. But thanks to steadily growing hours, weekly earnings have fared a bit better, and were in September at $813.51—nearly $17 better than in September of 2011. Still, weekly earnings, when adjusted for inflation, have stayed in roughly the same range since early 2011. If wages and employment alike move into more positive territory, it would be a sign of a more robust labor market.
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Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter @titonka or via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.