A Detail in Every Line

Early in every month, the U.S. Labor Department releases its monthly job report. I love it and hate it. I love it, because nearly every line tells a story and I hate it because I'd like to write them all and I can't. You could literally go through this report with its 21 pages of teeny-tiny type and find something interesting about every line. 

This report, prosaically titled, The Employment Situation, comes in two large chunks. One is the household chunk in which surveyors ask people about their experiences. That's how the government finds out that the average duration of unemployment is now 21.4 weeks and that 27.2 percent of the unemployed are now out of work for more than six months. The other is based on a survey of businesses and reflects their hiring trends.

Here's one line, for example, in this morning's report: In April, one in five construction workers identified themselves as unemployed -- at the time of the year when construction work should be picking up. Last April, it was also bad, with the unemployment rate at 11.3. percent. These are the kind of statistics that make it easy to understand why Philadelphia's building trade unions and the contractors who employ them ended up with one-year contracts this week. No one got more than $2 an hour, no one struck and no one -- neither union nor management -- was willing to make any kind of bet on the future, hence the one-year contract. By the way, don't get too impressed with the $2 hike. Most of it got sucked into pension fund repair and health benefits.