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(October 24, 2003) - Between the dot-com crash, 911, Iraq and last fall's stock market implosion, life has become bewildering on some fairly practical levels. Most readers will remember the delicious predictability of the 1990's. Whatever goes up will go up.

The beginning of the 21st Century has been markedly different. Predictability is as fondly remembered as the once fat 401Ks. It's been like a grand game of chicken in which everyone chickens early. Unwilling to bet against a seemingly endless cluster of disruptions, it looks like most organizations understate hiring plans while barring the doors when the rest of the world conducts layoffs.

The following chart adds "Separations" to yesterday's mix Job Openings and Actual Hires. S defines Separations as anyone leaving a job for any reason. Layoffs, disability, other terminations, retirement and death for the most part. Transfers within the company are not counted.

The increasing variation between job openings and hirings is particularly disturbing in this light. From pure appearances, the job market looks grim.

But, on average, 2002's monthly hiring ran at 91% of the 2001 rate while 2003 has been virtually identical at 89% of 2001 (or on par with 2002). Although Job Boards and Newspapers lost significant sales ground, the variation between high and low economic points was only about 10%.

    Average Monthly 000s
Hirings Openings Separations
2001 4,180.83 3,256.92 4,333.00
2002 3,794.08 2,537.58 3,878.58
2003 3,738.43 2,480.14 3,525.29

Using these BLS numbers, we can arrive at a view of 'excess labor supply'.
The following chart shows the difference between hirings and separations at the aggregate level. It does not account for new additions to or departures from the workforce (although we're certain that more left than joined).

As the average monthly table showed, in 2001 and 2002, we shed more workers than we hired (with a couple of particularly mean months). The net result, by June 2003 there were about 2,000,000 fewer workers in private industry than in early 2001. The good news is that the trend line has moved below zero for a solid nine months. We have been hiring more than separating since last October.

We're pretty sure that the reason that Job Board results do not reflect this change has to do with the massive proliferation of smaller boards. We'll try to get to a market share assessment of boards and networks in the coming months.

We sincerely hope that our trendline is right and that job creation (actual hiring) has begun to outpace separation. An intuitive look at the red line (Cumulative Supply) which has grown in large humps during the first quarter of each year, suggests that we will continue to face uncertainties about labor market stability until late next spring. While we'd love to say that our analysis proves that unemployment will be heading down, we're all sitting on a precipice. It's clear that things will continue to improve this fall but disruptions (from earnings problems to unanticipated global changes to financing the deficit) could make the situation in 2004, um, very democrat friendly.

John Sumser

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Materials written by John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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