Much of the data on the U.S. economy in recent weeks has been quite good. (OK, retail sales could have been better.)

The big test will come Friday, when the Labor Department releases the employment picture for May. The experts expect the economy to have created more than 500,000 jobs, with some gushing over a breakout above 700,000.

By now, you know all the dangers of fixating on just one number. After all, the United States has lost more than eight million jobs since the start of the recession.

But if it's a big, positive number, give a big cheer . . . then get back to work because the nation needs to create a lot more jobs to begin lowering the unemployment rate.

That's true even in the Philadelphia area, which economists tell us did not wilt in the recession as much as the hothouse areas in California, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada did.

As useful as it is to look at the big picture, I like to sample the state of the workforce by looking at actual companies.

Three months ago, I looked at 25 public companies that were among the first to file their annual reports on Form 10-K with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a clue about how bad a year it was for them in terms of employment, revenue, and profit.

Now that most companies have filed their Form 10-Ks, including those with fiscal years ended March 31, I decided to take a look at the 50 biggest companies with headquarters in the region.

I chose them based on revenue. These are big companies - 34 had revenue of more than $1 billion during 2009. The smallest was Conshohocken's Quaker Chemical Corp. with $451 million. (I excluded banks from the analysis.)

Collectively, those 50 companies employed 675,447 people as of the end of their fiscal years.

They had shed about 23,000 people, or 3.3 percent of their global workforces, over the course of that year. Thirty of the 50 reported having smaller workforces. Other companies, including Endo Pharmaceuticals Holdings Inc. and GSI Commerce Inc., actually expanded their labor forces more than 22 percent.

But the majority cut jobs for good reason: Net income sank 37 percent as revenue declined 12 percent. Net income of $5.59 billion sounds decent until you realize it's half what the bottom line was two years ago.

At least employment didn't fall 50 percent over the last two years.

Contact Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com. See his blog at www.phillyinc.biz