Friday’s latest government jobs report shows two ongoing trends:
First, with employers adding 428,000 in April, the economic rebound from the brutal pandemic seems to be holding together.
And second, as shown in the chart above, the level of the job rebound since the early days of the pandemic continues to depend on what industry you work in.
On the one hand, April’s seasonally adjusted figures are virtually the same as March’s, according to the Labor Department, with the growth in jobs broad-based across every major industry.
Wow, talk about exceeding expectations
Job growth was up much higher than pundits expected in June, as reported today by the government.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payrolls increased by 372,000 over the month, way stronger than economists’ consensus estimate of 250,000.
The BLS’ U-6 unemployment rate that includes discouraged workers and those holding part-time jobs for economic reasons dropped to 6.7% from 7.1% (the underreported U-3 headline rate remained unchanged at 3.6%).
Civilian labor force participation was essentially flat, falling slightly to 62.2% from 62.3% but still remains more than a full percentage point below the level seen just before the pandemic started in 2020.
Total civilian employment – at 158.1 million – actually fell somewhat in June and was still close to 800,000 below its February 2020 level.
Average hourly earnings increased 0.3% for the month and were up 5.1% from a year ago, indicating that wage pressures remain strong as brisk inflation sails along.
Among the unemployed, both the number of permanent job losers (1.3 million) and the number of persons on temporary layoff (827,000) changed little over the month.
The number of long-term unemployed – i.e., those jobless for 27 weeks or more – was essentially unchanged at 1.3 million. This measure is 215,000 higher than in February 2020.
The long-term unemployed accounted for 22.6% of all unemployed persons in June.
Interestingly, 7.1% of employed Americans teleworked (worked mainly from home) because of the pandemic, down from 7.4%.
Another 2.1 million people reported that they’d been unable to work because their employer closed or they were laid off thanks to the pandemic – up from 1.8 million in May.
By sector, education and health services led the job added, with 96,000 hires, while professional and business services added 74,000 positions.
What do these numbers mean?
Ambrose Evans Ambrose-Pritchard writes in The Telegraph that “monetary tightening is like pulling a brick across a rough table with a piece of elastic.
“Central banks tug and tug: nothing happens. They tug again: the brick leaps off the surface into their faces.”
Or as economist Paul Krugman puts it, the task is like trying to operate complex machinery in a dark room wearing thick mittens.
Lag times, blunt tools, and bad data all make it impossible to execute a beautiful soft-landing.
Way back in late 2007, the economy went into recession, a lot earlier than originally thought and almost a year before the demise of not-too-big-to-fail Lehman Brothers.
But the Federal Reserve apparently didn’t know – or acknowledge – that at the time.
The initial data release was way off base, as it frequently is at certain points in the business cycle.
The Fed’s main predictive model was showing an 8% risk of recession at the time. Today, by the way, it’s under 5%. Evans-Pritchard remarks, “It never catches recessions and is beyond useless.”
Fed officials later complained they wouldn’t have taken their hawkish stance on inflation the next year had the data told them what was accurately happening in real time.
And, more importantly, they wouldn’t have set off the chain reaction leading the global financial system to come crashing down.
Evans-Pritchard, however, ponders that had the Fed and its peers overseas paid more attention – or any attention for that matter – to the quickly evolving slowdown in the first half of 2008, they would have seen what was coming.
So, where does that leave us today as the Fed, European Central Bank and Bank of England hike rates at the fastest pace and more aggressively in four decades, with massive QT as icing on their cake?
According to Evans-Pritchard, the monetarists are again crying the apocalypse is coming! They’re accusing central banks of inexcusable errors:
First, they unleashed the high inflation of the early 2020s with an explosive monetary expansion.
Then, they swung to the other extreme of monetary contraction – disregarding both times the standard quantity theory of money.
In one of its banner anthems from the early 2000s – “Roll with the Changes” – the popular classic rock band REO Speedwagon belts out the sing along chorus, “Keep on rollin’, keep on rollin’…”
NY Times columnist David Brooks seems to feel the same way about the American economy.
In a recent column, he observed: “You can invent fables about how America is in economic decline…But the American economy doesn’t care. It just keeps rolling on.”
Brooks’ colleague David Leonhardt notes that when it comes to economic innovation and productive might, no country can match the U.S. – with Apple, Google, Amazon, Tesla and OpenAI blazing new trails.
Leonhardt writes, “The standard measure of a nation’s economic performance is per capita gross domestic product — the value of the economy’s output divided by the size of the population.”
He points out that even as China’s share of global GDP has skyrocketed over the past few decades, the U.S. still comprises virtually 25% of worldwide output – about the same as in 1990.
But as Nobel laureate and economist Paul Krugman reminds us, GDP doesn’t measure everyday Americans’ standard of living.
Because per capita GDP is an average, it can be distorted by outliers. One major example: income inequality in the U.S. is significant, which means the wealthy own a much larger share of output than in other countries.
As Leonhardt points out, per capita GDP in the U.S. has risen 27% in the new millennium – from around $50,000 in 2000 to a little over $60,000 at the end of 2021 (it was less than $25k in 1970).
“But median household income has risen only 7%,” while income for the top 0.1% of earners has [soared] 41%.”
Broader quality of life metrics show even more clearly how the U.S. isn’t looking so good relative to other comparable nations.
Leonhardt notes we have the lowest life expectancy of any high-income country, with “uniquely poor access to health insurance and paid parental leave.”
Krugman says, “It’s always important to bear in mind that GDP, at best, tells us how much a society can afford.
“It doesn’t tell us whether the money is well spent; high GDP need not translate into a good quality of life. Individuals can be rich but miserable; so can countries.
“And there are good reasons to believe that America is using its economic growth badly.”
Leonhardt thinks it’s a mistake to see the economy as separate from living standards:
“The unequal American economy continues to churn out an impressive array of goods and services while also failing to deliver rapidly improving living standards. And polls suggest that most people aren’t fooled.”