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Good news in jobs report bolstered by shrinking workforce

May 2, 2014 at 6:07 PM EST
The jobs report released Friday finds that employers added 288,000 jobs in April and the unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent. However, the dip in unemployment was driven by a sharp decline — more than 800,000 — in the number of people who worked or searched for work last month. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports on the dwindling labor force.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: If you saw only the headlines that came out of today’s jobs report, it looked very strong. The Labor Department reported employers added 288,000 jobs in April, a good deal more than economists were expecting. And the unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent, down from 6.7 percent in March, and that’s a five-and-a-half year low.

But the picture is more complicated, as our NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

It’s part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN: The jobs picture brightened last month, employers reporting they added positions at the headiest pace in more than two years, and hiring picked up in a wide swathe of sectors, led by professional and business services, retail and construction.

What’s more, 36,000 more jobs were added in February and March than previously reported. And then there’s the drop in the official unemployment rate, which comes from surveying households. It was impressive, although driven, it seems, by a sharp decline in the labor force, more than 800,000 fewer people working or looking for work last month.

Gerald Chertavian is CEO of the jobs program Year Up.

GERALD CHERTAVIAN, Founder and CEO, Year Up: I think the jobs report today is moving in the right direction. Clearly, adding the number of jobs we have added is positive, although, in terms of folks leaving the work force and not looking for a job, if those folks come back into the market and we continue to show declining unemployment, that’s what this country needs to do.

PAUL SOLMAN: Chertavian runs Year Up, a national one-year soft and hard skills job training program for young inner-city adults, whose official unemployment rate is almost double that of the nation as a whole.

Last month, over 12 percent of 16-to-24-year-olds not in school and looking for work were unemployed. For those with no more than a high school degree, the rate was higher, 16.1 percent in April, for black young adults, a key Year Up demographic, 23.3 percent.

GERALD CHERTAVIAN: We have a significant problem for young adults, especially urban young adults. And we know that if they’re not engaged in labor markets, soon in those early years, it has a long-term effect in their earning capacity.

SHAQUILLA BOYCE: I sat jobless for two-and-a-half years before I decided, OK, something has to give.

PAUL SOLMAN: At Year Up, the likes of 21-year-old Shaquilla Boyce spend six months being trained, then get internships in a job market that previously shunned them.

How hard did you try to get a job?

SHAQUILLA BOYCE: I think I went on probably over 40 interviews. It’s the, you only have a high school diploma, from this area, you know we’re looking for someone who has a degree or is in college.

So, no one was willing to say, I will take that chance on you.

PAUL SOLMAN: Fellow participant Daniel Alexandre says that, lacking confidence, connections, money, most of his friends don’t see the point of prepping for the job market. And that creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

DANIEL ALEXANDRE: If I were a company, I wouldn’t go to that individual because I don’t see potential there. You know they have dropped out, they have given up on themselves, so why should I believe in them?

PAUL SOLMAN: Gerald Chertavian’s Year Up is trying to change that.

GERALD CHERTAVIAN: We have to help employers to look beyond the educational discrimination associated with need not apply if you don’t have a four-year degree.

PAUL SOLMAN: It’s obviously an immense challenge. In April, hundreds of thousands of young people who never went to college were still out there looking for work. And hundreds of thousands more didn’t even think it was worth it.