Skip to Content

3 numbers that suggest the job market is gaining momentum

San Francisco Career Fair Helps Military Veterans Find JobsSan Francisco Career Fair Helps Military Veterans Find Jobs
A "now hiring" sign is posted on a table during a recruiting event.Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

The U.S. labor market posted yet another month of 200,000-plus job gains in October — the ninth month in a row. That hasn’t been seen since 1995.

That’s not the only standout number in the report compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Labor’s statistical resource. A range of other data reveal a steadily improving employment situation. Here are three numbers not to miss.

1. U.S. civilian labor force has hit 156.3 million.

That’s a new post-crisis high, which also helped inch the labor force participation rate up to 62.8% last month. About 62,000 people rejoined the labor force, a sign of confidence in the job market for many workers who have been sidelined waiting for the economy to strengthen.

Here’s an even better sign: Even as more people started entering (or re-entering) the job market in October, the unemployment rate still fell to 5.8%, the lowest level since July 2008.

2. The average work week for private sector hit 34.6 hours.

That’s also a new post-crisis high. It signals three things: more hours worked means more income for workers at a time when hourly wages are stagnant, which could turn into additional consumer spending. Secondly, it also indicates that employers are opting to squeeze more hours out of current workers rather than bring on extra workers. This often precedes additional hiring as companies ensure the increased demand is here to stay.

The third element that helped boost the length of the average work week last month was more full-time hiring. Full-time employment is almost back to pre-recession levels, while part-time employment has remained relatively stable.

3. About 24% of unemployed workers found new gig.

Once again, this is the highest rate of recovery since the recession hit in late 2007. It is also higher than the 23% of unemployed job seekers who gave up their search last month — it’s only the third time more workers found employment than gave up during the course of the recovery.

While the number of long-term unemployed was relatively flat month-over-month, the total has dropped 28% over the past year. Confidence is slowly seeping back into the economy, as well. Fewer workers said they felt discouraged, which in BLS language means they want a job but don’t think any are available.