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The elephant in the room: jobs

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On the first Friday of each month comes the elephant: fresh jobs data from the immediately prior month. No other indicator -- maybe not all others combined -- has the power of payrolls to move markets, to describe the economy and the prospects for inflation, and to alter the course of public policy. The headline is "non-farm payrolls," today's report a meager April gain of 115,000 jobs, about the same as March, but only half the figure in the three prior months, gains that made us think we were at last getting somewhere. One generic problem with elephants, especially at close range: shades of grey. Another: estimating size. The inherent inaccuracy in each non-farm payroll report is a couple of hundred thousand jobs. All of the reports in the last six months have lain inside that range of error. Another element writ on wrinkled grey: Everybody seems to understand that the official unemployment rate fails to describe anything useful. So, watch other things: Wa...