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!

***

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.”

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Failing Bridges Hold Public Hostage

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) gave the public just a few hours’ notice before closing a major bridge in March, citing significant safety concerns.

The West Seattle Bridge functioned as an essential component of  the city’s local and regional transportation network, carrying 125,000 travelers a day while serving Seattle’s critical maritime and freight industries. Closing it was a huge blow to the city and its citizens. 

Yet neither Seattle’s struggle with bridge maintenance nor the inconvenience now facing the city’s motorists is unusual. Decades of neglect left bridges across the country crumbling or near collapse, requiring a massive investment to keep traffic flowing safely.

When they opened it in 1984, officials predicted the West Seattle Bridge would last 75 years.

But in 2013, cracks started appearing in the center span’s box girders, the main horizontal support beams below the roadway. These cracks spread 2 feet in a little more than two weeks, prompting the bridge’s closure.

And it’s still at risk of falling.  

The city set up an emergency alert system so those in the “fall zone” could be quickly evacuated if the bridge deteriorates to the point of collapse.

More than one-third of U.S. bridges similarly need repair work or replacement, a reminder of America’s urgent need to invest in long-ignored infrastructure.

Fixing or replacing America’s bridges wouldn’t just keep Americans moving. It would also provide millions of family-supporting jobs for steel and cement workers, while also boosting the building trades and other industries.

With bridges across the country close to failure and millions unemployed, America needs a major infrastructure campaign now more than ever.

 

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work