April Jobs Report Shows Lowest US Unemployment in 50 Years

April Jobs Report Shows Lowest US Unemployment in 50 Years

The latest jobs numbers from the US Department of Labor, released on Friday, show that the US economy continues to create jobs at a robust pace despite historically low levels of unemployment. According to the April report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 263,000 jobs were created last month, overshooting analysts’ predictions in the range of 185,000-190,000. The unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent, a level not seen in the US since December 1969.

Wages also rose, albeit more modestly than economists would expect to see in such a tight labor market: Average hourly earnings were up 0.2 percent month-to-month for a 3.2 percent increase over the last 12 months. While this was nearly the best year-over-year growth figure since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, it doesn’t make up for years of stagnation, while inflation wiped out a significant portion of those gains, Vox highlighted in its coverage of the jobs report:

The latest pay data suggests that workers and labor unions will continue to strike to force businesses to boost wages. Slow income growth has been the weakest part of the US economy in its recovery from the Great Recession. Wages have barely kept up with the cost of living, even as the unemployment rate dropped and the economy expanded. April’s 6-cent average hourly wage hike suggests more of the same, despite a surprising 10-cent jump in February.

Over the past year, the cost of food and housing has gone up, so paychecks have had to stretch further. But because of recent falling gas prices, the annual inflation rate has fallen to 1.9 percent, compared to a high of 2.4 percent in 2018 (based on the Consumer Price Index). So when you take inflation into account, workers’ real wages only grew about 1.3 percent within the past year.

There are also reasons to hesitate before celebrating the decline in the unemployment rate, the New York Times pointed out, noting that “the factors behind it aren’t as hopeful as the headline number itself”:

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US Job Growth Slowed in February, but Average Earnings Rose

US Job Growth Slowed in February, but Average Earnings Rose

The US economy added only 20,000 jobs last month, according to the Labor Department’s latest jobs report, marking a sharp slowdown from a streak of monthly gains in the hundreds of thousands. The unemployment rate, however, fell from 4.0 to 3.8 percent, while the number of people employed part time for economic reasons decreased by 837,000 to 4.3 million, following a sharp increase in January attributed to the federal government shutdown that month. The return of furloughed federal employees also contributed to the decline in the overall unemployment rate.

The number of new jobs fell far short of economists’ predictions, which were in the range of 170,000-180,000. Employment in fields like professional services and health care continued to increase apace with recent trends, but the construction sector cut 31,000 jobs and manufacturing added only 4,000. Employment in other industries like retail, leisure, and hospitality stagnated.

The contrast with other recent months is even more striking as the numbers of new jobs created in December and January were both revised upward slightly, to 227,000 and 311,000 respectively. This sudden swing from robust to lackluster job growth is difficult to interpret as it may signal a slowdown be just a blip in the data, the New York Times notes:

January’s payroll gains were exhilarating. February’s numbers were disappointing. Together they offer a potent reminder that each monthly employment report from the Labor Department captures just a moment in time. Longer-term trends are what matter, and the streak of job growth continues to set records. …

Still, as Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist of Northern Trust in Chicago, said: “This is a disappointing report. I don’t think there’s any way to sugarcoat it.” Rising wage growth is good for workers, but combined with soft payroll growth, he said, “it’s a signal we need to be cautious with the U.S. economic outlook.”

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US Job Market Finishes 2018 Strong, but Talent Challenges Remain

US Job Market Finishes 2018 Strong, but Talent Challenges Remain

The US jobs numbers for December, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday, exceeded expectations by a wide margin with the economy adding 312,000 jobs last month, while figures from October and November were revised upward by a combined total of 58,000. It was the best month of job growth since February 2018, when 324,000 jobs were created. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had forecast just around 176,000 new jobs, according to CNBC.

The unemployment rate increased slightly from 3.7 to 3.9 percent in December, but for a good reason: not because workers lost their jobs, but rather because 419,000 new job seekers entered the labor force. The unemployment rate has fallen from 4.1 percent since December 2017, while the workforce expanded by nearly 2.6 million people. With the final report for the year, the US added an average of 220,000 jobs a month in 2018. Wages also grew in December by 0.4 percent over the previous month and 3.2 percent over the previous year, tying with October for the best year-over-year increase since April 2009 and indicating that the tight labor market is finally leading to higher pay for US employees.

“It appears that higher wages are the reason why people are returning to the active labor force in large numbers,” Paul Ashworth, chief US Economist with Capital Economics, commented to CNN, adding that wage growth might spook investors by suggesting that the Federal Reserve would proceed with its planned schedule of interest rate hikes this year. Ashworth added in a note reported by CNBC that the big jump in jobs “would seem to make a mockery of market fears of an impending recession,” while Jim Baird, chief investment officer for Plante Moran Financial Advisors, told the network: “Employers, it would seem, didn’t get the memo from Mr. Market that it’s time to tighten their belts.”

Nonetheless, the robust jobs report comes amid market jitters over the possibility of an overheated economy, missed earnings projections from some major US companies, and concerns about the domestic impact of President Donald Trump’s trade policies toward China. In remarks after the report was released on Friday, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank was prepared to adjust monetary policy in response to changing economic conditions, meaning it could ease up on raising interest rates if the economy shows signs of trouble. Powell described the jobs report as encouraging, saying the rise in wages “does not raise concerns about too-high inflation” and would not prompt the Fed to accelerate rate increases, the New York Times reported.

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US Employees’ Bonuses and Benefits Growing Faster than Wages

US Employees’ Bonuses and Benefits Growing Faster than Wages

The latest compensation data from the US Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show that total compensation for US employees has increased modestly over the past year, from $35.28 per hour worked in June 2017 to $36.22 per hour worked in June 2018. Wages and salaries averaged $24.72 per hour worked and accounted for 68.3 percent of these costs, while benefits averaged $11.50 and accounted for 31.7 percent. For private sector employees, compensation has increased from $33.26 per hour worked to $34.19. Wages made up $23.78 or 69.6 percent of that figure, while the remaining $10.41 (30.4 percent) consisted of benefit costs, in which the BLS includes supplemental pay.

While the percentage ratio of wages to benefits was unchanged from June 2017, benefit costs grew at a slightly higher rate than wages year-over-year, nearly 3 percent compared to 2.7 percent. This reflects a nearly 12 percent increase in bonuses and other forms of supplemental pay, from $1.18 per hour to $1.32; supplemental pay made up 3.8 percent of the total compensation mix in June 2018, compared to 3.5 percent a year earlier. Paid leave, including vacation time, also increased slightly.

Taking a longer-term view, over the past five years, benefit costs for private-sector employees have increased by over 20 percent, from $8.64 per hour worked in June 2013; whereas wages and salaries have increased 16 percent, from $20.47 that month. Supplemental pay, by comparison, has increased 65 percent from 80¢ per hour worked in June 2013. This trajectory reflects the increasing tendency we’ve observed among employers in recent years toward variable pay schemes that reward employees for high performance with one-time bonuses rather than standard annual raises.

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US Gender Pay Gap Not Closing, Census Data Shows

US Gender Pay Gap Not Closing, Census Data Shows

The US made no progress toward closing the gender pay gap between 2016 and 2017, with the ratio between women’s and men’s average earnings stalling at 80.5 cents to the dollar and the gaps between women of color and white men actually widening, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported last week:

If current trends continue, women will not receive equal pay until 2059, according to a related IWPR analysis of trends in earnings since 1960. This projection for equal pay remains unchanged for the last two years, indicating that the rate of progress has stalled.

Women of all major racial and ethnic groups saw the wage gap with White men widen in 2017, with especially large gaps facing Black and Hispanic women. Hispanic women made just 53 cents for every dollar earned by a White man (down from 54.4 cents in 2016) and Black women made just 60.8 cents (down from 62.5 cents in 2016). At $32,002 per year of full-time work, median earnings for Hispanic women are below the qualifying income threshold for eligibility for food stamps for a family of four.

“Closing the wage gap is not a zero-sum game—gains for one gender do not require losses for the other,” the IWPR points out in a fact sheet on the pay gap. While the gender gap has narrowed over the past several decades, wage stagnation in the US is an ongoing concern for men and women alike:

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Wages Rise and Job Gains Continue in Strong August Report

Wages Rise and Job Gains Continue in Strong August Report

Unemployment held steady at 3.9 percent last month, while the US economy added 201,000 jobs, according to the August jobs report from the US Bureau of Labor statistics, released on Friday. The numbers of new jobs created in the previous two months were revised downward, however, by 248,000 to 208,000 for June and from 157,000 to 147,000 fro July—a total downward revision of 50,000.

Average hourly earnings rose by 10 cents to $27.16 in August, for a year-over-year gain of 77 cents or 2.9 percent. These numbers indicate that wage growth in the US may finally be accelerating again after years of stagnation despite a tight labor market, the New York Times reported:

Amy Glaser, a senior vice president at the staffing company Adecco, said she had noticed a significant change in employers’ willingness to increase hourly wages. “Now clients are talking in terms of dollars instead of cents for wage increases,” she said. During the busy holiday season, employees often jump from one business to another for an additional 50 cents an hour, Ms. Glaser said. Companies are trying to head off that exodus, she said, by starting seasonal hiring earlier — in August, instead of September and October — and by offering higher starting pay.

One sour note in Friday’s report, however, was that both the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio declined by 0.2 percentage points, to 62.7 percent and 60.3 percent, respectively. These figures suggest “an economy running awfully close to its capacity,” Neil Irwin observes at the Times’ Upshot blog:

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Unemployment Fell and Earnings Rose as US Added 157,000 Jobs in July

Unemployment Fell and Earnings Rose as US Added 157,000 Jobs in July

The US economy added 157,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate ticked down to 3.9 percent, Friday’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed. The labor force participation rate remained unchanged over both the month and the year, at 62.9 percent. The number of workers re-entering the job market decreased by 287,000 in July to 1.8 million, after having increased in June, causing the unemployment rate to increase that month from 3.8 to 4.0 percent.

The manufacturing sector added 37,000 jobs in July, mostly in durable goods. Economists have been bracing for an impact on this sector caused by President Donald Trump’s recent changes to US trade policies, but these effects have not yet appeared in the BLS data. Other sectors with notable job growth last month included professional and business services (51,000 new jobs), health care and social assistance (34,000), food services and drinking places (26,000), and construction (19,000). The retail sector gained 7,000 jobs, with 32,000 job losses in sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores offsetting gains in other types of retail establishments.

Those lost retail jobs may be the reason why the report failed to meet economists’ expectations of 190,000 new jobs, CNBC’s Patti Domm points out, possibly due to the bankruptcy of one major retailer:

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