50,000 jobs is a weak report by any measure, but the growth of the working age population (20-64) has slowed markedly over the last few years. Slower growth in that population means that fewer jobs need to be created to keep pace. To quote Bloomburg.com
Because fewer people are entering the labor force than in years past, a smaller number of new jobs is needed to keep the unemployment rate constant, economists said. That number is now about 130,000 per month, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in testimony to Congress in July, while Chicago Fed President Michael Moskow put the figure at 100,000. The number used to be as high as 150,000, economists say.
The census provides estimates of growth in the key 20-64 population group from 2000-2005:
2000-2001: 2.43 million
2001-2002: 2.41 million
2002-2003: 2.26 million
2003-2004: 2.12 million
2004-2005: 2.09 million
Based on census estimates of the US population in 2010, 2020, 2030, 2040, and 2050, I've interpolated an estimate of growth rates in this group over that period (click to zoom in).
By my estimate, in late 2006 the growth rate is about 1.75 million per year. And dropping off a cliff. By this time in 2012, we'll only need to create 65,000 jobs a month to keep pace - that's just six years away. In a decade, we'll need only 30-35,000. By 2021, just 25,000.
Some people seem to think this number is static - like this guy:
First, no one should brag about creating 128,000 jobs in one month, since it is widely accepted that you need to create 150,000 jobs per month just to keep up with population growth.
Not that widely accepted, really. What is accepted is that the number of jobs we create in a given month is likely to be somewhere near the net increase in the number of people in the working age population during that month. And in fact, we shouldn't expect the numbers to be much higher than that, at least not for very long, because you simply can't grow the number of people actually working faster than the number of people available to work for very long without starting to wonder what negative unemployment is, exactly.
People walking around with old numbers in their heads often think they've figured out that falling unemployment is a sham - they know the jobs number is too small to produce shrinking unemployment, so they know that real unemployment is rising, not falling. But they're wrong, and feel free to tell them so.