The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes two estimates of job growth each month: one based on a survey of households and the other based on a survey of firms. The increasing disparity in recent months has created confusion over the size of job gains, as the payroll survey shows robust gains, while household employment is down one month and up the next. Some analysts and portfolio managers have used the household employment data to support their view that the economy is in recession. They're wrong.
The two surveys are not strictly comparable. But BLS publishes a household employment figure adjusted to payroll survey concepts. And, when modified, the household series shows solid gains, even outpacing the payroll's whopping increase in July.
To estimate the household employment series equivalent to the payroll series BLS removes from the initial estimate of household employment agricultural workers, unpaid family workers, paid private household workers, and workers on unpaid leave and adds multiple jobholders.
In July, the household series adjusted for payroll concepts rose 611,000, far above the published gain of 179,000 for household employment and above the 528,000 payroll gain. The series also shows that household employment rose by 131,000 in June, whereas the regular series shows a decline of 315,000. Since the start of the year, the adjusted household series has outpaced payroll jobs by 216,000.
In the end, the divergence runs the opposite, with household employment outpacing payrolls, and the jobless rate at 3.5%, a 50-year low, confirms that strength. The labor market data says the economy is not in recession.