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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:
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.
A recent survey conducted by LinkedIn and Harris Poll examined what success means to the typical US employee today. The results underlined several trends we’ve been seeing in recent years in what employees care about the most. Corner offices and fancy titles are no longer seen as status symbols the way they once were, while employees are more interested in learning new skills, not missing out on career opportunities, and helping others succeed as well as themselves.
LinkedIn also found, however, that Americans are heavily preoccupied with paying their bills and getting or staying out of debt:
Two out of five professionals don’t list being passionate about their job as a measure of success – instead they’re in it to pay the bills (69%). And living problem-free is a top priority, as nearly three-quarters (74%) are in it not to worry about money. This motivation is helping to usher in the age of the side hustle. Whether it’s moonlighting in an art gallery or building websites on the weekends, more than one-third of professionals today (36%) find success in pursuing a passion project or side job.
Fast Company’s Rich Bellis remarks on the dark side of these findings, noting that 68 percent of men and 76 percent of women said they considered “not living paycheck-to-paycheck” a measure of success, compared to just 17 percent of women and 23 percent of men who defined success as “having material wealth.” These gender differences, Bellis suspects, are illustrative of the gender pay gap and the relatively greater financial insecurity women experience as a result. Yet it’s “a little troubling,” he writes, that most Americans would consider themselves successful just for keeping their heads above water.
Apple announced on Wednesday that it was bringing hundreds of billions of dollars back to the US that the company had previously held overseas to take advantage of a loophole in the US tax code that has now been closed. In doing so, Bloomberg’s Alex Webb and Mark Gurman report, the company will incur a tax bill of around $38 billion, but it also plans to spend $30 billion over the next five years on capital expenditures, with which it expects to create 20,000 new jobs and open a new campus:
“We are focusing our investments in areas where we can have a direct impact on job creation and job preparedness,” Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said in a statement Wednesday, which also alluded to unspecified plans by the company to accelerate education programs. Apple also told employees Wednesday that it’s issuing stock-based bonuses worth $2,500 each following the new U.S. tax law, according to people familiar with the matter.
These moves came in response to the tax reform package passed by the US Congress in December, which reformed the international tax system for corporations by removing a rule that let American companies defer paying taxes on foreign income until they repatriated those earnings, incentivizing companies to stockpile some $3.1 trillion in cash overseas. Apple was among the companies best known for taking advantage of the deferral provision and faced extensive criticism for doing so, including from President Donald Trump.
Other major US companies, including Walmart, have announced raises, bonuses, and other investments in their workforce in light of the major corporate tax cut enacted last month.
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US employers added 148,000 jobs in December for a total increase of 2.1 million jobs across last year, according to the latest employment data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday. The monthly figure, while still reflecting a strong labor market, was considerably lower than the revised totals of 252,000 and 211,000 jobs added in November and October, respectively. Figures for these months were revised downward by a total of 9,000 in Friday’s BLS report. The annual increase was slightly below the 2.2 million jobs added in 2016. The greatest job gains last year came in the health care, construction, food service, and manufacturing sectors, whereas retail employment declined by 67,000.
The unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent, remaining at its lowest level since December 2000 for the third month running. The total number of Americans employed part-time who would prefer full-time work was “essentially unchanged” at 4.9 million in December but down 639,000 for 2017, while the number of long-term unemployed fell by 354,000 over the course of the year to 1.5 million last month. Average hourly earnings rose by 65 cents, or 2.5 percent, over the year.
Economists’ views of what this portends for the coming year differ, based partly on how much impact they think the household and corporate tax cuts passed by Congress last month will have on hiring and consumer spending. “The pace of job creation in 2017 suggests the expansion may have more room to run eight and a half years after the most recent recession ended,” the Wall Street Journal’s Eric Morath writes, while the tax cuts could “turbocharge growth,” as Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at consulting firm RSM US, puts it. Glassdoor’s chief economist Andrew Chamberlain takes a different view: