The US economy added 223,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate fell to a post-recession low of 3.8 percent, the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed on Friday. May continued the US labor market’s growth streak into its 92nd month, the longest such expansion in history. New jobs numbers were also revised upward by a total of 15,000 for the preceding two months, to 159,000 jobs in April and 155,000 in March. Retail, health care, and construction were the leading sectors adding jobs last month.
Compared to the previous year, the unemployment rate was half a percentage point lower in May, with the total number of unemployed persons reduced by 772,000. The number of long-term unemployed was little changed from April to May, standing at 1.2 million, but this figure had also declined by 476,000 over the past year. Underemployment remains an issue, with 4.9 million US workers working part-time who would prefer to be working full-time.
In the first five months of 2018, the workforce has grown by an average of 207,000 jobs per month, the Wall Street Journal adds, beating the average monthly growth of 182,000 in 2017. May’s numbers exceeded the expectations of economists surveyed by the Journal, who had expected 190,000 new jobs and a 3.9 percent unemployment rate. The last time the US recorded a 3.8 percent rate was in April 2000, and the last time before that was in 1969. The falling rate reflects a mix of positive and negative developments, however, as the labor force participation rate ticked down from 62.8 to 62.7 percent and the number of people not in the labor force increased by about 170,000.
Wage growth remains real the sticking point in the US labor market. Average hourly earnings in the private sector rose by 8 cents last month, to $26.92, for a year-over year increase of 71 cents or 2.7 percent. This increase represents a slight improvement over the persistent stagnation in wages in the years following the recession, but annual wage growth has not cracked the 3 percent mark since 2009.
Unemployment across the US fell to 3.9 percent last month, its lowest level since December 2000, the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed, as the economy added 164,000 jobs. The increase in jobs was below the average monthly gain of 191,000 over the prior 12 months and the median estimate of 193,000 provided by economists to Bloomberg. However, job gains from the previous two months were also revised upward by a net 30,000 jobs. A broader measure of unemployment, including those marginally attached to the labor force or employed part time for economic reasons, fell from 8 percent in March to 7.8 percent in April.
Wage growth remained slow, however, with average hourly earnings rising 4 cents to $26.84, representing a 2.6 percent year-over-year-increase. That figure has dwindled from 2.9 percent in January, dampening hopes that the tight labor market would finally lead to accelerating wage growth for American workers. Nonetheless, Josh Wright, Chief Economist at iCIMS, tells the Washington Post that it’s “an exciting headline for the worker”:
“A real Goldilocks number, with job growth being great.” But pay stayed flat, so the Federal Reserve won’t likely feel pressure to raise rates before June. In other words, Wright said, the markets should respond favorably. “What we’re seeing here is steadiness,” he said. …
If the expansion further gains steam, analysts at the Fed said the unemployment rate could reach 3.7 percent this year, a figure not seen since 1969.
Also, the New York Times points out, “A year-over-year increase of 3 percent in hourly earnings is considered the trip wire that could prompt the Federal Reserve to raise its benchmark interest rate more aggressively than it has signaled”:
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US nonfarm payrolls rose by a seasonally adjusted 103,000 in March, while the more robust numbers from January and February were revised downward by a cumulative 50,000 in Friday’s monthly report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, representing a marked decline from February, when the workforce grew at the strongest monthly rate since July 2016. The unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent for a sixth month, still the lowest since December 2000, while wages rose only slightly, by 8 cents an hour for a year-over-year increase of 2.7 percent.
Labor force participation fell incrementally from 63.0 percent in February to 62.9 percent in March. That’s better than the recent low of 62.3 percent in 2015, but the rate remains nearly the lowest the US has seen since the late 1970s, the Wall Street Journal’s Eric Morath observes. With the economy at approximately full employment, the government and employers alike are hoping to entice more non-working Americans off the sidelines, but have had limited success so far in that endeavor.
Friday’s numbers fell short of expectations. Economists surveyed by the Journal had predicted 178,000 new jobs and an unemployment rate of 4.0 percent. ADP’s independent monthly report, released on Wednesday, said companies had added 241,000 jobs last month. ADP’s numbers always tend to be higher those from the BLS, but this month’s divergence is unusually wide.
One possible factor in March’s sharp decline is the weather: The US was hit with a series of late winter storms this year, and as Washington Post economics correspondent Heather Long noted, there was major snowfall the week the BLS conducted its survey, which may have depressed its count and could mean these figures will be revised upward in future reports.
For Ben Casselman, economics reporter at the New York Times, the big-picture takeaways from the jobs numbers in early 2018 are that wage growth is still slower than economists would tend to expect and would like to see given the tightness of the labor market, and that while labor force participation isn’t falling off due to retirements in an aging workforce, Americans are not returning to the workforce in sufficient numbers to fill the shortages in the labor pool:
The February employment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, released on Friday, depict a strong labor market, with the US economy adding 313,000 jobs: the largest monthly increase since July 2016 and extending the longest recorded labor market expansion in US history into its 89th month. Job growth figures were also revised upward for December and January by a total of 54,000. The unemployment rate held steady for the fifth month straight at 4.1 percent, the lowest rate since December 2000.
Economists had expected growth of around 200,000 jobs. Some observers attribute the spike in hiring to the massive corporate tax cut passed by Congress in December, but this is not a consensus view, the Washington Post reports:
“This is a result of fiscal stimulus — in other words: a $1.3 billion tax cut,” [Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain] said. “Businesses are making decisions on a forward-looking basis. Even if the dollars aren’t in the pockets of companies yet, they’re making plans.”
Cathy Barrera, head economist at ZipRecuiter, an employment site, questioned that interpretation, asserting it’s still too early to see an impact from the tax measure. “Really for businesses, what matters is demand for their products,” she said. “If demand for products hasn’t gone up, there’s not more work for these companies to be doing.”
The only piece of not-so-great news in Friday’s jobs report was that February did not deliver the acceleration in wage growth that many economists were hoping for. Average hourly earnings for private nonfarm employees rose by 4 cents to $26.75, for a year-over-year figure of 2.6 percent, lower than the 2.9 percent figure reported for January (revised downward in this month’s report to 2.8 percent).
The combination of large job growth and low wage growth was reassuring news for Wall Street, the New York Times adds, as it points to continued economic expansion but eases fears of runaway inflation:
Facing a shortage of talent and a surplus of unfilled jobs, the state of Wisconsin is pulling out all the stops to attract millennials from other parts of the midwestern US to the state to work, Shayndi Rice reports at the Wall Street Journal. In January, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation launched a $1 million ad campaign in Chicago, while the state legislature is soon expected to pass a proposal from Governor Scott Walker to spend another $6.8 million to advertise the state throughout the midwest.
Too many jobs and not enough workers may sound like a luxury problem compared to what some parts of the US have reckoned with in the past decade, but Wisconsin policy makers fear that the slow growth of the labor force (just 1.4 percent from 2010 to 2016) could hinder economic development in the state. That low growth—a product of demographic aging, low birth rates, and negative net migration—has left Wisconsin with an unemployment rate of 3 percent and a projected 45,000 unfilled jobs by 2024, Rice reports.
Along with the abundance of job opportunities, the ad campaigns tout the low cost of living in Wisconsin cities (compared to Chicago), easier commutes and higher quality of life. Cities like Milwaukee and Madison are also running social media campaigns to advertise themselves as fun, vibrant places for young professionals to live. Critics of the campaigns, however, contend that these funds would be better spent on public services.
The January jobs report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that average hourly wages had risen 2.9 percent over the preceding year. Though not quite the 3.5 or 4 percent growth economists would like to see, that figure represents an encouraging sign that the American labor market’s perplexing combination of low unemployment and stagnant wages might finally be abating.
A new analysis from Reuters expands on the good news, finding that last year’s wage gains were geographically broad, not concentrated in a small number of states or cities. Ann Saphir, Jonathan Spicer, and Howard Schneider report:
The Reuters analysis of the most recent data available found that in half of the 50 states, average hourly pay rose by more than 3 percent last year. That’s up from 17 states in 2016, 12 in 2015, and 3 in 2014. Average weekly pay rose in 30 states, also up sharply from prior years, the analysis showed. Unemployment rates are near or at record lows in 17 states, including New York, up from just five in 2016, the Reuters analysis shows. …
Total nonfarm employment in the US grew by 200,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate held steady at a historically low 4.1 percent, according to January’s employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The highlight of last month’s jobs data, however, was the increase in average hourly earnings, which rose by nine cents to $26.74, following an 11-cent gain in December. Over the past year, average earnings increased by 75 cents or 2.9 percent. That’s the largest year-on-year gain since June 2009, Reuters reports, though the average workweek fell slightly in January to 34.3 hours, canceling out some of these wage gains.
Reuters adds that the strong jobs data increase the likelihood that the Federal Reserve will raise its benchmark interest rate several times this year, perhaps more than the three hikes it was already planning:
“This report supports the Fed’s contention that the jobs market is nearing full capacity and wage and inflation pressure has begun to make its way into the data,” said Marvin Loh, senior global market strategist at BNY Mellon in Boston. “With almost full odds priced in for a March rate hike, investors have moved towards the second, third, or even possible fourth rate hike this year.”
A separate set of Labor Department figures released earlier in the week found that total US employee compensation costs increased by 2.8 percent across 2017, Bloomberg reported, with several industries, including transportation and service occupations. showing increases of over 3 percent—a sign of a competitive labor market.