The chart above should be a real eye-opener. What it shows is the annualized growth rate of labor productivity over rolling 5-yr periods. For the past 5 years, productivity has increased by a miserably slow 0.54% per year on average. In the past 70 years, productivity growth was weaker only in the 1976-82 period—a period notorious for its high and rising inflation and a general malaise among the population.
The chart above highlights the degree of month-to-month volatility in the jobs numbers. For the past 4 years, the private sector has averaged jobs gains of 212K per month, with a standard deviation of 70K. The August report was within this range.
For the past four years, the year over year growth rate of private sector jobs has been in a range of 1.9-2.7%. It's currently 2.4%. Steady as she goes—nothing at all remarkable here.
One enduring problem of the current business cycle expansion is the very slow growth of the civilian labor force. Lots of people—about 10 million—have simply "dropped out" and are no longer looking to work, for a variety of reasons. Hint: transfer payments now make up almost 20% of disposable personal income, up 20% from 2007 levels and up 300% from the 5% that prevailed in 1951.
Still, despite the disappointments, there has been a non-trivial expansion in the number of private sector jobs: a little over 4 million net new jobs have been created since 2007, the peak of the last expansion. In contrast, the public sector has shed a net 500K jobs since 2009, for which taxpayers should be grateful.
Part-time employment during the current expansion has behaved pretty much the way it always has. Coming out of the recession, part-time employment surged, as businesses began to hire but were reluctant to make long-term commitments. As the economy became more resilient and confidence in the future picked up, part-timers were replaced by full-timers.
In the 55 years since 1960, there have only been 15 years or so when the unemployment rate was lower than it is today. Today's 5.1% unemployment rate says the economy is doing a good deal better than average. One naturally wonders, therefore, why the world is so concerned that the Fed might raise rates above zero. This is a fragile recovery desperately in need of monetary TLC?
No. This is a sluggish recovery desperately in need of better incentives to work, invest, and take risk. Cutting marginal tax rates would help tremendously, as would a reduction in regulatory burdens.