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Live and learn! I just found out about a new source of government data on the American employment scene! It’s called the Business Employment Dynamics series, and it measures on a quarterly basis the gross jobs gains in the private sector, gross jobs losses, and thus the net change. And from the chart on the first page of this new report, it’s clear that the numbers look like they’re pointing to another recession.

According to these statistics from the Labor Department, the difference between the gross gains and losses for the first quarter of this year (meaning that these reports are somewhat backward looking) produced a net gain of 226,000. That’s the smallest since the third quarter of 2010, when it stood at 237,000. Moreover, it was keyed by the biggest quarter-to-quarter drop in gross job gains (711,000) since the first quarter of 2009 (820,00) – at the depths of the last recession. (That decline was bigger on a percentage basis, though.)

And the shrinking gap between gross job gains and losses could be flashing recession because when the lines on the chart start converging, the chart shows that a downturn is near, or at least that the economy is performing very weakly. In fairness, this data series only goes back to 1992, but that’s exactly what happened before the recession that lasted from March through November, 2001, and the much worse downturn that began in December, 2007.

And then there’s the matter of what’s meant by “private sector.” As I’ve repeatedly written, this government category misleadingly includes parts of the economy, notably healthcare services, whose vigor (and therefore job creation) depend heavily on politicians’ decisions, not economic fundamentals. During the first quarter of this year, these sectors gained 37,000 more jobs than they lost. So if the private sector was properly defined, its net job gains for this period would have been only 189,000. Actually, these figures are a little more encouraging than those for the third quarter of 2010, when the subsidized private sector recorded a 73,000 net hiring gain, thereby leaving the real private sector figure at 164,000.

In fact, if you compare the importance of the subsidized private sector now and its importance just before the last two recessions, you find that it’s down significantly. Over the four quarters preceding the 2001 recession, it accounted for 18.78 percent of total net private sector job gains. Before the Great Recession that began in late 2007, this figure shot up to 53.94 percent. But over the last four quarters, it’s stood at only 14.11 percent.

Of course, the Great Recession dwarfed the its 2001 predecessor in length and severity. Today, we don’t know whether we’re in the run-up to a recession or not. And as mentioned, the latest numbers are still several quarters behind. Unless the so-called laws of economics are completely off-base, though, a downturn is coming one of these days. Let’s see what examining subsidized private sector hiring then turns up. For now, however, the overall private sector trends revealed in this new Labor Department data are anything but bullish for the economy.