The Week Ahead: Jobs report means different things to different people

March 29, 2014 

Every month, the first Friday holds the promise (and the threat) of the jobs report. The numbers don't lie, but their truths are far from universal. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the meaning of monthly unemployment data is derived from one's perspective. After a long, cold and snowy winter, Friday's release of the March jobs data may help answer key questions about the health of hiring nationwide. But the answers will be colored by which stakeholder is asking the questions.

• Economists: What is the multi-month trend of employment? What types of jobs are employers adding? Are Americans working more hours? For more or less money?

• Traders: What employment report? I'm watching the last price paid for what I'm trading.

• Investors: Do this month's results show any significant difference from last month?

Will these statistics matter in five years?

• Federal Reserve: If March unemployment hits 6.5 percent, our long-time goal, do we have to answer the phone calls and emails from reporters?

• Members of Congress: How many of those jobs can I take credit for?

• Big business executives: What do Wall Street analysts want to hear?

• Small-company operators: What happens if that part-time employee works more than 29 hours a week?

• Entrepreneurs: Do you have to collect a regular paycheck to be considered "employed"?

• American households: Do I have a job? Does my neighbor?

The official unemployment rate has shown little change since December while companies have continued to hire, despite the snowy and cold winter. Friday's March employment report will be greeted with the usual amount of opinion-passing as analysis. Since the numbers don't speak for themselves, many others will try to. Unfortunately, the questions won't necessarily lead to clear answers.

Tom Hudson, financial journalist, hosts "The Sunshine Economy" on WLRN-FM in Miami, where he is the vice president of news. He is the former co-anchor and managing editor of "Nightly Business Report" on public television. Follow him on Twitter HudsonsView.

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