05 February 2016

The Most Curious Thing About the Labor Market

While the stock market continues to worsen, the labor market continues to improve. But that is not the most curious thing about it.

Unemployment is down to 4.9% from 5.7% last January. Since 2011, the Jan-Jan drop has averaged 0.8%, so the recovery continues at exactly the same rate it has averaged over the last six years.

Wages are up more than 2.5%, a rate of gain that's higher than what it averaged throughout the 1900s when steady wage growth of roughly 2.+% made wages about 6 to 8X higher in 2000 than they were in 1900. 

The number of employed is up 2.44 million from a year ago. Where did these people come from? 1.3 million came from a growth in the labor force (millennials and others entering the workforce) and 1.1 million came off of the list of the unemployed. 

The number of discouraged workers is down 8.7% and the number working part-time for economic reasons (that is, they are working part-time simply because they can't find full-time employment) is down 11.7%.

The average number of jobs created in the last 5 years was 2.5 million. By comparison, during the best five-year streaks in the late 1990s and mid-1980s, job creation averaged 2.9 million jobs a year. Job creation is not as strong as during the best five years of those recoveries, but it is more steady. No job creation streak has gone this long without a temporary dip. We now have 64 months of uninterrupted job creation, a period during which 13.1 million jobs have been created. The streak could end this year but there's at least as much reason to believe it will continue as finally stumble. 

Curiously, as the stock market becomes more volatile, the labor market has become more stable. The stock market rarely goes three months without an alarming downturn, whereas the labor market has ticked up every month for more than five years. And to highlight that contrast, the NASDAQ is down about 3% the same day that unemployment falls below 5% for the first time in 8 years.

 Curious indeed.

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