July jobs: nice pop on payrolls but flat wage growth

Jared Bernstein

Jared Bernstein Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

[This jobs report is an important one in terms of assessing the impact of headwinds on the job market, but because it’s sort of a holiday, I’ll just offer up a truncated, bullet-point report. As always, thanks to Kathleen Bryant, who got up early on vacation to help me out!]

Toplines:

–Payrolls rose 224,000 last month, well above expectations for ~165K. Though we never want to over-weight one month of noisy data, that’s an important number, suggesting that building economic headwinds haven’t dented job creation much yet at all.

–Our monthly smoother shows average monthly job gains over 3, 6, and 12-month windows. Even including May’s weak 72K (revised) gain, the average over both the past 3 and 6 months has been around 170K jobs/month. That’s a slight downshift from the 12-month average but still a very solid number, one that should handily support the ongoing expansion.

–The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.7% (a statistically insignificant change, btw), but that was mostly due to more people coming into the labor force–the participation rate nudged up 0.1 ppts to 62.9%.

–That’s all good news, but the evolving wage story is less so. As the figures below reveal, our 6-mos rolling average of yr/yr nominal wage growth shows the trend (versus the noisier monthly values) is stalled or even trailing off a bit. This too, is an important finding, suggesting that a) there’s still “room-to-run” in this expansion as labor supply doesn’t appear to be tapped out, b) even with unemployment near 50-yer lows, too many workers still lack the bargaining clout they need.

–That said, nominal wage gains are beating consumer inflation, which is running a bit below 2%, so the buying power of paychecks is rising. Again, this combination of solid job gains, low inflation, and nominal wage growth around 3% should handily support the expansion in at least the near term.

Other observations:

–Gov’t added 33K jobs, and some are saying that’s related to hiring for the decennial Census. Such hiring does and will cause a temporary spike in payrolls, but federal gov’t employment was up only 2K last month. Local gov’t added 29K jobs, so this doesn’t look like a Census issue.

–Manufacturing had a better month in June, adding 17K jobs after being flat for most of the year. One month doesn’t change the recent trend, and the factory sector remains high on the watch list, as the trade war, stronger dollar, and our expanding trade deficit may put downward pressure on the sector in coming months.

–This is a tricky jobs report the Federal Reserve, which is meeting later this month and is expected to cut its benchmark interest rate. But with unemployment below their estimate of the “natural rate” (the lowest jobless rate believed to be consistent with stable prices) and average payrolls gains well north of the “equilibrium” level (the level required to keep unemployment from rising), they will not see a rate cut as an obvious necessity.

–Pushing the other direction–toward a rate cut–are below-target inflation and the absence of wage acceleration.

–So, it’s quantities versus prices! May the best variable win. While I carry a fairly hefty rate-cut bias, I’m not sure what I’d vote for were I at the FOMC table. Given the need for sustained real wage growth for the majority of workers left behind during decades of rising inequality, I’m leaning toward “prices,” as in cut rates in the hopes of even lower unemployment and the possibility of bending the wage-growth curve back up. But I’ll think on it and get back to you later with a definitive call!

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Reposted from On the Economy

Jared Bernstein joined the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in May 2011 as a Senior Fellow.  From 2009 to 2011, Bernstein was the Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, executive director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, and a member of President Obama’s economic team. Prior to joining the Obama administration, Bernstein was a senior economist and the director of the Living Standards Program at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Between 1995 and 1996, he held the post of deputy chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor. He is the author and co-author of numerous books, including “Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed?” and nine editions of “The State of Working America.”

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Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

If a billionaire “invites” you somewhere, you’d better go. Or be prepared to suffer the consequences. This past May, hedge fund kingpin Carl Icahn announced in a letter to his New York-based staff of about 50 that he would be moving his business operations to Florida. But the 83-year-old Icahn assured his staffers they had no reason to worry: “My employees have always been very important to the company, so I’d like to invite you all to join me in Miami.” Those who go south, his letter added, would get a $50,000 relocation benefit “once you have established your permanent residence in Florida.” Those who stay put, the letter continued, can file for state unemployment benefits, a $450 weekly maximum that “you can receive for a total of 26 weeks.” What about severance from Icahn Enterprises? The New York Post reported last week that the two dozen employees who have chosen not to uproot their families and follow Icahn to Florida “will be let go without any severance” when the billionaire shutters his New York offices this coming March. Bloomberg currently puts Carl Icahn’s net worth at $20.5 billion.

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