Friday, April 6, 2018

Despite a weak March, jobs growth still improving

The March private sector employment report was a big miss on the downside (102K vs. 188K), but the trend rate of growth in private sector jobs continues to improve. The monthly jobs numbers are notoriously volatile and subject to significant revision after the fact, so one month's number cannot possibly be significant. For years I've focused on the 6- and 12-month rate of growth in private sector jobs, and by those measures conditions in the labor market continue to improve, after hitting a low last September. Here are the relevant charts:

Chart #1

Chart #2

Charts #1 shows the nominal monthly change in private sector jobs, while Chart #2 shows the 6- and 12-month rate of growth of private sector jobs. Big swings such as we have seen in recent months are pretty much the norm, so any attempt to characterize the underlying dynamics of the jobs market must rely on at least several months. Over the last six months, private sector jobs have increased on average by 213K, which translates into a 2.0% annualized rate of growth. Over the past 12 months, private sector jobs have increased on average by 187K, for a 1.8% rate of growth. This represents a significant improvement since the low point in September of last year, when private sector jobs rose at a 1.6% rate over the previous 6 and 12 months. We're making progress, albeit slowly.

Chart #3

Another bright spot is the recent pickup in the year over year growth of the labor force (the number of people of working age who are employed or looking for work). This hit a low of 0.4% last October and now stands at 1%, which is close to its average in recent decades. Background: over the long haul, the labor force tends to grow by about 1% per year, and productivity tends to average about 2%: the combination of the two, 3%, gives you the long-range average rate of growth of the economy. The current recovery, the weakest on record, has seen annualized growth rate in the labor force of just 0.5% and annualized productivity growth of only 1.0%.

Chart #4

Chart #4 shows the size of the labor force, which for many years increased by a little over 1% per year. If that growth trend had persisted, there would have been another 12 million or so either working or looking for work, and the unemployment rate—currently 4.1%—would currently be a lot higher.

Chart #5

The Labor Force Participation Rate has been steady—and quite low—for the past several years, but with a hint of improvement. (This is the labor force—those working and looking for work—divided by the working age population.) This rate is going to have to increase in coming years if the economy is to grow by more than 3%. Which means that a good portion of the 12 million or so that have "dropped out" of the labor force are going to have to decide to get back in the game. There are hints that this improvement has begun, but progress is still slow. What will entice millions of folks to get off the sidelines and back to work? Better-paying jobs. Where will the extra money to pay higher salaries come from? From increased corporate profits, which are baked in the cake thanks to the recent tax reform, and which will increase the nation's capital stock as corporate investment improves. With more capital deployed in the economy, labor will become relatively scarce and thus more valuable—and better-paid.

Chart #6 

Chart #6 is another bright spot, since it shows that there has been zero change in the level of public sector employment since the end of 2007. (Note that the y-axis for both series shows a similar scale increase, namely 20%.) This means the relative size of the public sector workforce has shrunk by almost 10% over the past decade. That is a very good thing, since the private sector is much more productive. 


randy said...


I dunno. Those that have left the workforce have figured out how to get by. Whether it's gig economy stuff or disability or other safety net income or a combination - it's hard for me to believe a modest increase in wages will make a difference for those that have exited. Maybe I'm wrong. But it does make sense that higher wages would be critical to stemming the tide. That is a worthy goal. Stiffer safety net and disability thresholds would immensely help, but I don't see that coming. This president doesn't have the stomach for that.

ckhajavi said...

Scott - don’t demographics explain a lot of the decline in the participation rate

Scott Grannis said...

Re demographics explaining the declining participation rate: Chart #5 adjusts significantly for demographic effects, by looking only at the percent of the population of working age that is working or looking for work. The baby boom effect (lots of baby boomers retiring) should thus be accounted for by excluding the baby boomers that are past retirement age.

Benjamin Cole said...
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Benjamin Cole said...

The Federal Reserve already believes the US economy is operating at "beyond full employment" which it defines as about when unemployment is 4.75%.

As the vast bulk of voters are employees, a good idea is to seek tight labor markets to convince voters that free enterprise is a good system. Tax-free wages is perhaps another good idea.

A Fed that seeks loose labor markets, alongside property zoning that artificially inflates housing costs is not really a good way to convince voters that free enterprise works.

And when did it become the norm to criminalize pushcart vending? You can only be a retailer in America if you rent retail space properly zoned.

And we wonder why people vote for Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

WealthMony said...

With regard to Chart #5, were we to go back to the 1950s we would most likely see a lower participation rate because many wives remained home raising baby boomer children. There was one, not two, autos in the carport or garage. Yet we had a booming economy. I know it's not the 50s again, but is demographics playing a role in this current reduced participation rate? Do we have a rising population of children with more mothers choosing to remain housewives and not continue in the active workforce?

Higher productivity = higher wages = higher real incomes = low inflation = low interest rates = stronger economic growth

So essential to economic prosperity are technology and an educated, well trained and energetic workforce.

xr-3609 said...
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xr-3609 said...
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