We Added Tons of Jobs in April, but the Labor Force Still Dwindled

A blog about business and economics.
May 2 2014 9:35 AM

We Added Tons of Jobs in April, but the Labor Force Still Dwindled

Fed Chair Janet Yellen, captured in a convenient "good news, bad news gesture."

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Happy jobs day everybody! First, the good news: the BLS reports that the economy added 288,000 jobs in April, which “crushed expectations,” as Business Insider put it with typical understatement. Better yet, the totals for February and March were revised up, so we now appear to have added 200,000 jobs or more for three straight months, which is all the more impressive (and slightly puzzling) considering that the economy barely grew over the winter.

Jordan Weissmann Jordan Weissmann

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.

Standard disclaimer: This month’s jobs total will also be revised, as will the last quarter's GDP figures. As with all jobs day stories, consider all of this provisional.


Meanwhile, the unemployment rate tumbled 0.4 points to 6.3 percent. That's where the iffy news comes in—much of the drop happened because the labor force shrank by 800,000, driving the participation rate down to 62.8 percent. It hasn’t been that low since 1978, when women were still in the process of joining the workforce. Just look at that ugly graph below (And I mean that both as an economic and aesthetic judgment. The BLS really needs to work on its charts).


According to BLS spokesman Jason Kuruvilla, a relatively normal number of Americans left the workforce. The problem was that an unusually low number cycled back in, so participation dropped. It's not, however, entirely clear if that's the result of a weak job market. Kuruvilla said the result might have had to do with the timing of the Easter holiday, and the fact that BLS performed its survey early. Overall, partciipation has been essentially the same as in October of last year.*

The upshot: It seems like a jobs report to feel good about, but not quite one to feel great about.

*Correction May 2, 2014: An earlier version of this story incorrectly argued that the labor force shrank primarily because of workers giving up on the hunt for work.


Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Never Remember Anything
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.