MONEY Economy

The Number That Has Economists Holding Their Breath

A U.S. economic recovery seems to coming together, but one key piece is still missing: wage growth.

On Friday, economists will get a fresh read on the U.S. recovery when the federal government issues reports detailing fourth-quarter gross domestic product and other data. They aren’t necessarily expecting GDP to match the third-quarter’s robust 3.9% increase, but most foresee healthy economic growth.

Assuming no major surprises in that department, however, all eyes will be looking past the headline number at something else: the Employment Cost Index.

The index, published by the Labor Department, is a measure of overall employment costs, including wage but also benefits like health care. While the index logged steady growth of 3% to 4% a year in the middle of the previous decade, the rate plunged to less than 2% after the financial crisis and has remained stubbornly stuck in that range ever since. One big reason, says Wells Fargo economist Sam Bullard, is that even as the recovering economy added jobs, they’ve tended to be lower wage, part-time gigs like waiting tables, flipping burgers, and staffing retail stores. “The caliber isn’t the same,” he says.

The good news is that the index posted two consecutive quarters above 2% annual growth — including 2.3% in the third quarter. Bullard says economists and traders will be looking for Friday’s fourth quarter number to match or exceed that 2.3%.

If it does, it’s yet another reason to believe the U.S. economy is on the right path—and that the gains could potentially be more widely shared across the income spectrum.

It would also likely to be regarded as a sign that the Federal Reserve, which on Wednesday reiterated its cautious stance on raising rates, could move sooner rather than later.

ECI

 

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 27

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Political differences aren’t the problem in America. It’s our fierce intolerance of political differences.

By Clive Crook in Bloomberg View

2. Instead of burying carbon emissions underground, a new plan converts it to minerals for longer-lasting, safer storage.

By Andy Extance in Slate

3. As more states and communities give ex-cons a fair chance at employment, the momentum is building for action by the White House.

By Lydia DePillis in the Washington Post

4. Games inspire deeper engagement and interaction. Can we gamify the news?

By Lene Bech Sillesen in Columbia Journalism Review

5. It’s time to reimagine youth sports in America with an eye on inclusion and health.

By Tom Farrey in the Aspen Idea Blog

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Economy

Unemployment Rate Drops to 5.6% as Employers Add 252,000 Jobs

Pedestrians walk by a now hiring sign posted in the window of a business on Nov. 7, 2014 in San Rafael, Calif.
Pedestrians walk by a now hiring sign posted in the window of a business on Nov. 7, 2014 in San Rafael, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

December marked the 11th straight month of payroll increases above 200,000

U.S. job growth remained brisk in December, with employers adding 252,000 jobs to their payrolls after November’s outsized increase. The nation’s unemployment rate fell to 5.6% from November’s 5.8%.

December marked the 11th straight month of payroll increases above 200,000, the longest stretch since 1994. With a revised 353,000 jump in November, and October’s count also revised higher, the economy created 50,000 more jobs than previously reported in the prior two months.

“The U.S. is sort of an island of relative strength in a pretty choppy global sea. People are worried the problems abroad could afflict the U.S., but our domestic fundamentals are pretty sound and should outweigh that,” said Josh Feinman, chief global economist at Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management in New York.

December’s gains capped a strong year for hiring. With another job creation number over 200,000, employment gains for 2014 at around 3 million — the largest since 1999.

A five cent drop in average hourly earnings after rising six cents in November, took some shine off the report.

Wage growth has been frustratingly tepid and economists believe the Federal Reserve will be hesitant to pull the trigger on raising interest rates without a significant increase in labor costs.

The U.S. central bank has kept its short-term interest rate near zero since December 2008. It has not raised interest rates since 2006, but recently signaled it was moving closer to hiking, even if inflation remains below the Fed’s 2.0 percent target. Most economists expect the first rate increase in June.

But an acceleration in wage gains is in the cards as the labor market continues to tighten.

That, together with lower gasoline prices are expected to provide a tail wind to consumer spending this year.

“As the labor market moves closer to full employment … we are likely to see firms increase wages. We have already started to see some of that,” said Sam Bullard, a senior economist at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Most of the measures tracked by Fed Chair Janet Yellen to gauge the amount of slack in the labor market have pointed to tightening conditions and would be again under scrutiny.

A broad measure of joblessness that includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment is at six-year lows, the labor force appears to have stabilized, while the ranks of the long-term unemployed are also shrinking.

—Reuters contributed to this report

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Economy

U.S. Employers Laid Off the Fewest People in 17 Years in 2014

Getty Images

Data are the latest indicator that the U.S. labor market is performing well

Job cuts announced by U.S.-based employers last year were 5% fewer than in 2013 and the lowest annual total since 1997, the latest indicator that the U.S. labor market is performing well.

Overall, employers announced job cuts totaling 483,171 in 2014, down from 509,051 cuts announced the prior year, according to a report by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“Layoffs aren’t simply at pre-recession levels; they are at pre-2001-recession levels,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of the firm. “This bodes well for job seekers, who will not only find more employment opportunities in 2015, but will enjoy increased job security once they are in those new positions.”

Challenger’s report pointed out that while the economy and employment has grown in 2014, no job is ever truly secure as the nation still averaged about 40,000 planned job cuts per month. That’s because companies restructure their operations, announce cost-cutting moves or cut jobs when mergers and acquisitions are completed.

Notably, the tech sector, a relatively strong performer in the economy, saw the heaviest downsizing last year. That sector announced 59,528 planned layoffs. Challenger said that was a 69% increase from a year ago. Much of that downsizing was due to plans announced by Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft to each cut thousands of jobs. With both of their traditional businesses heavily tied to the PC world, the companies are pivoting to compete as the tech market moves to mobile devices where other rivals are stronger.

Job cuts in the retail sector declined by 11% in 2014 but the industry still ranked second. The third-ranked health care sector also posted fewer layoffs in 2014, Challenger said. Meanwhile, the largest increases in job cuts occurred among employers in the entertainment industry and electronics, where job cuts in 2014 more than doubled for both.

“We expect downsizing to remain subdued in 2015, as a growing number of employers turn their attention toward job creation,” Challenger said.

The biggest potential threat? Falling oil prices, which could result in higher job cuts in one of 2014’s star performers: the energy sector. Energy related layoffs only totaled 14,262 last year. In a nod to that possible soft spot, Challenger pointed to an announcement earlier this week that U.S. Steel would be laying off 756 employees due to soft demand related to weak oil prices.

“Lower prices mean less money for research, exploration and new drilling operations,” Challenger said. “However, the slowdown in oil-related industries may be more than offset by the extra dollars in consumers’ pockets as they shell out less money for gas and heating oil. The money not spent at the pump can be used for consumer goods, travel, home improvement, and dining out. Furthermore, continued low gas prices could spur an increase in SUV sales. All of these are going to have an immediate and positive impact on the job market and hiring.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Companies

The Biggest Problem American Business Is Facing in 2015

TIME.com stock photos Money Dollar Bills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

In order to remain competitive on the world stage, America’s top companies need to take the lead in addressing economic inequality

As 2015 progresses, an improving U.S. economy should buoy markets and provide hope for the business sector. However, before we pop the champagne, it is worth remembering that the past year has also been a turbulent one. Economic inequality continues to widen and worker strikes, once rare, are now increasing in frequency.

The reality is that despite gains in profitability and shareholder value, American businesses could experience a serious labor problem in the near future, and the sooner it is addressed it, the better.

Broadly speaking, there are three factors working against the U.S. right now. The first is an aging population, which not only threatens to burden the system with greater costs in terms of social benefits and pensions, but also a shortage of younger people to fill jobs. Exacerbating this is the fact that the working age population in the future, composed of millennials (and their successors) will require better work benefits, including flexible schedules, higher pay, and room for creativity, in order to feel motivated – a phenomenon that will make it more difficult for companies to secure and retain talent.

By contrast, China and India have vast untapped labor pools, and 65% of India’s population is currently 35 or under, ensuring a young and dynamic labor force for decades to come. This has historically benefited the U.S. through cheap labor, but that could change as these economies become stronger and wage levels rise in response. In addition, Chinese and Indian companies have themselves begun to compete aggressively in the global arena with the workforce behind them to support it, which could put their American counterparts at a disadvantage.

The combination of these factors and a growing perception amongst low and middle income workers of economic unfairness could lead to a crisis of worker availability and competitiveness for U.S. companies within the next few decades unless employers can reach a balance between profitability and compensation that will motivate workers. This is particularly important in the arenas of fast food and retail, which require a large labor force but where wage levels are typically low and a source of escalating friction between companies and their employees, but could effect other sectors as well.

Unfortunately, we keep looking towards the government for a solution, which is a mistake. In today’s hyper-partisan environment of Capitol Hill, compromise on a politically charged issue like wages on which Democrats and Republicans fundamentally disagree is nearly impossible. Moreover, the idea of taxing our way to economic equality, advanced by economists like Thomas Piketty and even Microsoft founder Bill Gates, is unrealistic. Even if it was politically feasible, additional taxation would do little to bridge the gap between employers and workers.

That can only be accomplished by a concerted effort to understand and address the needs of workers by companies themselves, and requires the participation of our most influential business leaders.

For too long, the debate over fair wages has remained stuck in the quagmire of ideology (on both sides), but what is really required is the recognition by the CEOs who run our major corporations of the direct link between worker compensation and the future profitability of their businesses. The reason this is so critical is that our biggest companies set wage levels in their sectors and so only through their participation can a true market-driven solution be found to this pressing problem.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a business commentator. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, at hedge fund Ramius Capital, and has an MBA from Columbia Business School. Follow him on Twitter @sanghoee

TIME Economy

Private Sector Adds More Than 2.5 Million Jobs in 2014

At the current pace of job growth the economy could return to full employment by this time next year

The U.S. private sector has added more than 2.5 million jobs last year, and some economists say that if the pace of hiring continues, the nation could return to full employment by this time next year.

The rosy view can be attributed to the latest employment figures reported by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing and analysis provider Moody’s Analytics. Their report shows private-sector payrolls in the U.S. jumped by 241,000 in December, surpassing the 235,000 increase projected by economists. The U.S. private sector has now added more than 200,000 jobs for four consecutive months.

“At the current pace of job growth, the economy will be back to full employment by this time next year,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics. Full employment is when all, or nearly all, people who are willing and able to work are able to do so.

The gain in December was fueled by small businesses, which added 106,000 jobs last month. ADP defines small businesses as those that employ fewer than 49 people. Medium-sized businesses added 70,000 jobs last month, while large businesses (which employ 500 or more people) added 66,000.

By sector, the professional/business services and the trade/transportation/utilities industries added the most jobs in December, the report showed. Construction, manufacturing and financial activities employers also added to their payrolls.

The labor market had a stellar 2014, with gains in hiring across a range of sectors as U.S. economic growth encouraged many employers to add jobs. 2014 has been the best year for job gains this millennium, as Fortune previously reported.

The ADP report is issued two days before the federal government’s monthly jobs report, which includes the unemployment rate. Economists predict that Friday’s December jobs report will show U.S. hiring swelled by 245,000, while the nation’s unemployment rate is expected to dip to 5.7% from 5.8%.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Careers & Workplace

These Are the 50 Best Places to Work for 2015

Based on analysis by Glassdoor, a website where employees post anonymous reviews of their companies

Glassdoor, a website that allows employees to post anonymous reviews of their offices, has released its annual list of the best places to work in the U.S. for 2015. Google is at the top, and it is also at the top of the U.K. version of this ranking (a new section this year).

The website only includes companies with more than 1,000 employees and at least 50 “approved” reviews for this report. Ratings come from reviews provided by employees who participated in a survey that was conducted between November 13, 2013 and November 2, 2014. Each overall ranking is based on the “quantity, quality and consistency of reviews,” according to a statement.

Glassdoor

LIST: 5 of the Best Companies for Working Moms

LIST: Best Places to Live 2014

Read next: The 25 Absolute Best Workplaces in the World

TIME Apple

Alabama to Vote on ‘Tim Cook’ Bill Barring Discrimination Against Gay Employees

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., Oct. 27, 2014.
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., Oct. 27, 2014. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

Apple CEO Tim Cook "honored" to lend his name to the bill

Alabama lawmakers plan to name an anti-discrimination bill after Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook, who disclosed in a magazine essay last October that he was gay.

The ‘Tim Cook’ bill will bar discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender state employees, including school teachers, Reuters reports.

Alabama’s only openly gay state lawmaker, Patricia Todd, told Reuters that she originally posed the name in jest, but it gained traction in the media and eventually reached Apple’s executive suite. A statement from Apple confirmed that Cook was “honored” to have his name attached to the bill.

The statement came after a company official reportedly called Todd to express reservations, a position that was later reversed by Apple’s general counsel.

“I never in a million years would have expected it,” Todd said.

Read more at Reuters.

MONEY Jobs

Why It’s Still Hard to Find the Job You Really Want

workers at construction site
Don Mason—Gallery Stock

The U.S. economy is adding jobs at a surprisingly fast pace. They just might not be the ones you want.

The U.S. added 321,000 new jobs in November, according to the Labor Department. Although unemployment remained unchanged at 5.8%, the new jobs number beat most economists’ estimates. The strong results follow news on Tuesday that the economy grew at a 3.9% clip in the third quarter. Combined with the preceding period, that represents the fastest six-month expansion in more than a decade.

And yet the job market still feels sluggish for many middle-income job seekers, or those looking for a job that’s better than what they’ve got now.

The problem is that the post-recession economy is still better at producing marginal jobs—think retail and food service gigs—than the comparatively well-paying construction, manufacturing, and government jobs that let middle-class people buy homes and support their families.

That’s led to what some call a “low-wage recovery.” As recently as August, the National Employment Law Project, a labor group, calculated that 41% of job growth in the previous year was in low-wage industries, compared with just 26% in middle-wage industries.

A look at Friday’s numbers suggests that dynamic starting to change, but slowly.

The U.S. added 50,000 more retail jobs in November. There were also 27,000 additional jobs in bars and restaurants.

That kind of growth outpaced growth in sectors like construction, which added 20,000 jobs, and government, which added just 7,000. One bright spot was manufacturing. Economists have long warned this sector, hobbled by trends like automation and competition from low wage countries, isn’t ever likely resume it’s former stature. It’s been making something of comeback nonetheless: 28,000 manufacturing jobs were created in November.

Moody’s Analytics economist Ryan Sweet argues the jobs picture will steadily improve for middle income workers. On Thursday, he forecast construction hiring would continue to show gains in 2015 and 2016, driven in part by the housing market, where supply is getting tight again—Moody’s Analytics recently estimated rental vacancy rates at 20-year lows. Meanwhile, steadily improving GDP should replenish state and local tax coffers, allowing governments to start hiring again. Even Detroit, one of the recession’s biggest victims, has seen its prospects improve. Pointing to low oil prices, Sweet cited a forecast that automakers could sell 17 million cars next year.

These are all the kinds of trends you’d expect to see in a recovery—the surprise is how many years it has taken to get to this point.

 

TIME Retail

Inside Starbucks’ Radical New Plan for Luxury Lattes

An employee pours milk into a cardboard coffee cup inside a Starbucks Corp. coffee shop in London on June 9, 2014.
An employee pours milk into a cardboard coffee cup inside a Starbucks Corp. coffee shop in London on June 9, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Your Starbucks is about to change radically—get ready for $6 coffee

If there is a retail proxy for America, it must be Starbucks. The company has 12,000 stores in the US, doing 47 million transactions per week, serving 70 million unique customers. One in eight people found a Starbucks card in their Christmas stocking last year. So when Starbucks founder and CEO Howard Schultz says something about consumers, people tend to listen. (Indeed, everyone from President Obama to the heads of major investment banks have been known to ring him for a cup by cup read on the state of the economy.)

At the company’s biannual investor conference this week, Schultz gave his take on the state of the recovery in the US. While Schultz is bullish, laying out some robust growth targets for his company, he also said, “We are living at a time when the world is very fragile, and that effects consumer confidence.” Just like the overall economy, Starbucks is bifurcated—stores in some affluent cities are doing more business than ever, while others have yet to spring back from the last several years of crisis and recession.

What’s more, the way people are shopping is changing profoundly. According to Schultz, the “seismic shift” in consumer spending from bricks and mortar retail outlets to online shopping that the company first noted last year has become “a tidal wave.” That’s going to change the entire nature of retail and public spaces. As Schultz put it, “I wouldn’t want to be a mall operator five to ten years from today,” referencing the fact that foot traffic in malls and in Main Street shopping areas throughout the country is way down from last year.

The problem is, that’s where most Starbucks today are located. Solution: a whole new approach to stores that mirrors this new economy. Just as fashion brands have “haute” couture and mass market lines, Starbucks will now have luxury “reserve” stores, and many more express kiosks, mobile coffee trucks and all kinds of specialized retail outlets purpose built for specific spaces. Think luxe roadside coffee pit-stops, or “hammerhead” shaped drive through outlets made out of used cargo containers that will sit in the entrance to highways or on small silvers of land near a bowling alley or another local attraction.

The idea will be to make Starbucks a destination in and of itself, one that’s not so dependent on foot traffic. “People are still longing for connection, and a sense of community, perhaps more so now that they are spending more time at their computers, or working from home,” says Schultz. But in order to preserve the “third place,” Schultz says the company will increasingly have to offer “experience, rather than just a product.”

On Dec. 5, Schultz debuted part of the new strategy—his first flagship “Roastery,” a 15,000 square foot space in Capitol Hill, Seattle that is both a coffee roasting facility, and a consumer retail outlet. The place is to coffee what FAO Schwartz is to toys or Dover Street Market is to fashion—retail theatre. You can watch beans being roasted, talk to master grinders, have your drink brewed in front of you in multiple ways, lounge in a coffee library, order a selection of gourmet brews and locally prepared foods. (The entire store is crafted from Made in America materials, by regional artisans.) The architecture says “niche” not mass, as does the merchandise—copies of the New Yorker are scattered alongside top of the line espresso machines and bags of reserve beans marked with their crop year.

Schultz calls it his “Willy Wonka factory of coffee,” and it speaks to the fact that in retail, as in nearly every aspect of the economy these days, there seems to be two directions—up, or down. At the Roastery, a latte made from beans cut and roasted in front of you only minutes before can cost more than $6 bucks. And the truth is that they could probably charge a lot more. There’s little price sensitivity for the upscale consumer these stores—and the smaller “Reserve” stores inspired by the flagship, which will be coming to a town near you in 2015—will target.

In America these days, there are two kinds of people: those that can buy lattes, and those who make them. Schultz is endeavoring to change both their lives.

Read next: How to Win Free Starbucks for Life

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