MONEY Jobs

March Jobs Report Disappoints

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Getty Images

A government report shows that the labor market struggled. What does that mean for your salary?

After months of impressive gains, employers slowed down hiring last month.

Employers added 126,000 jobs in March, while employment gains for January and February were revised down. Over the past three months, businesses have increased their payrolls by 197,000 workers a month. The unemployment rate held steady at 5.5%.

Hourly earnings, however, were a positive, rising 0.3% last month. Workers have seen a raise of 2.1% over the past 12 months, though, which is barely keeping pace with inflation.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen promised in a press conference last month that “we will be looking at wage growth,” adding that “we have not seen wage growth pick up.” A lack of sustained, accelerated wage growth is one reason the Fed has kept short-term interest rates near zero since the recession.

There have been other disappointments in the economy. As the dollar has strengthened against the euro, American exports have become less competitive in the global market place at the same time that economic weakness in Europe, China and Japan have reduced demand for U.S. goods. U.S. companies are starting to take it on the chin. According to S&P Capital IQ, large corporations are expected to see a 3.1% quarterly earnings decline in the first three months of 2015, the first drop since 2009.

Meanwhile U.S. productivity, measured by the growth of services and goods produced per hour worked, declined 2.2% in the last quarter of 2014.

“Wage growth will ultimately be constrained by productivity as employers cannot let paychecks increase faster than hourly output growth for years on end,” says Jack Ablin, chief investment officer for BMO Private Bank. “While job growth is the most important barometer of economic success, healthy wages play an important supporting role. Until productivity picks up, wage gains will likely be constrained.”

James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management, points out that productivity has only grown 0.8% annually in the last five years, compared to a post-war norm of 2.4%.

What’s holding productivity back? “The problem has been a lack of investment spending,” says Paulsen. Since the recession, the private sector “has been noticeably reserved with capital spending plans. Moreover, as a percent of GDP, real public sector investment spending has been declining steadily since 2010, falling recently to a 65-year low.”

Corporations aren’t going to invest unless there’s a demand for its products, which has been muted as U.S. consumers have spent the past half decade or so dealing with debt. Government spending has been limited due to sequestration.

Whether or not the Federal Reserve will tighten monetary policy by raising interest rates before the end of the year, while key employment indicators lag, remains to be seen.

MONEY Employment

Why It’s Time to Start Looking for Another Job

3 major economic indicators show why this might be the best time in a long time to start searching for other work.

Economists are pretty good at accounting for the unemployed and underemployed, but there’s one group that’s gone largely ignored during the economic recovery: people who have a job they don’t like, but are afraid to quit.

That’s probably because having a bad job was, at least until recently, seen as a pretty lucky problem to have. When times are tough and employment is scarce, any work is good work. But now the economy has sufficiently improved to the point where employees should stop feeling trapped in their current position and seriously consider making the change they’ve been longing for. Here’s why:

Hiring is way, way, up

Friday’s jobs report showed 295,000 jobs were filled in the month of February. That’s the 13th month in a row with more than 200,000 hirings, and the economy has added nearly 11.5 million jobs in the past five years.

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That’s a lot of jobs you could have instead of the one you’re stuck in.

Open positions are way up as well

Not only has hiring increased, but the number of positions has surged to a 14-year high. There were 5 million job openings at the end of last year, the most since 2001, and the ratio of unemployed job seekers to openings was 1.7, the lowest number since 2007.

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Employees are feeling more confident about quitting

A lot of smart people, including Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, think one of the best indicators of economic progress is whether people have enough faith in the labor market to quit their current jobs. That statistic, known as the quit rate, has been rising and is now closing in on pre-recession levels.

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If you’re feeling like it’s time to leave for greener pastures, you’ll have a growing amount of company.

Read next:

How to Catch the Eye of a Recruiter in Just 7 Minutes

500,000 Walmart Workers Are Getting a Raise. Here’s How You Can Get One, Too

MONEY Jobs

Why We Should Be Happy With a Higher Unemployment Rate

woman holding "Hire Me" sign
Catherine Lane—Getty Images

A higher unemployment rate in an improving economy means more people are beginning to look for work again.

For the most part, Friday’s jobs report is clearly reason to cheer. The economy added 257,000, making January the the 12th consecutive month employers hired over 200,000 workers. The Labor Department even revised earlier figures, announcing 147,000 more jobs were created in November and December than previously thought.

But in spite of all this great news, one number seemed to stick out: the unemployment rate actually went up, jumping from 5.6 to 5.7 percent.

That’s not a big change but it doesn’t seem to jibe with everything else happening in the economy. How could the unemployment rate still be increasing when hiring seems to be at a post-recession high?

The answer is the official unemployment rate, at least by itself, doesn’t actually measure the economic recovery very well. This metric, also known as U3, is one of six different ways the Department of Labor measures unemployment, and it only includes people who are unemployed and actively looking for work. That means people who are unemployed but too discouraged to look for a job aren’t included in the unemployed population.

This quirk is what Gallup CEO Jim Clifton was talking about when he called the unemployment rate a “big lie,” but it’s actually telling the truth if you know what to look for. When hiring increases, as it has over the past year, people who previously gave up searching for work will once again start trying to find employment. This is obviously a good thing, but for the moment an influx of new job hunters is pushing up unemployment numbers because those who just began searching for work after a long break are essentially treated as newly unemployed.

“I don’t think [Friday’s unemployment bump] is a big deal,” says Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. “I think that is mostly due to people coming back into the labor force—some of them finding jobs, some of them not finding jobs.”

In fact, as the economy continues to recover, it’s likely the unemployment rate will likely stay the same or even increase. “If had to project the unemployment rate, I would expect it would hold steady and could move a little up, but I don’t think we’re going to see it going down,” explains Gould. “As the economy gets stronger more people will enter the labor force and that will move the unemployment rate, potentially in the wrong direction.”

All this sounds nice in theory, but do we really know more people are entering the job market? The most accurate metric we have to answer that question is the labor force participation rate, which includes everyone who is working or looking for work. Unfortunately, that number can be misleading since many older Americans are leaving the market at the same time job-seekers are re-entering it, leading to a long-term downward trend.

Luckily, today’s report shows enough people started looking for work in January to push the labor force participation rate up a tick. It wasn’t much—less than a percentage point—but even a small increase is meaningful when the demographic tide is flowing the other way.

At least for once, a higher unemployment rate isn’t so bad.

MONEY Jobs

Employers Hired 257,000 Workers in January

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Datacraft Co Ltd/Getty Images

The economic picture continues to mend, but workers still looking for better wages.

The U.S. economy added 257,000 jobs in January, the 12th consecutive month employers hired more than 200,000 workers. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate rose slightly to 5.7%.

Employers also added more employees in the end of 2014 than originally thought. The Labor Department revised November’s employment change to 423,000, compared to 353,000, and December’s to 329,000, from 252,000.

The positive monthly employment report is another sign of a building economic recovery. The four-week moving average initial jobless claims recently fell by 6,500 to 292,750 The employment cost index, which measures salary and benefits, increased by 2.3% in the last three months of 2014. And the gross domestic product grew by 2.6% in the last quarter of 2014 after climbing by 5%. This good news, along with cheap energy prices, has also pushed up economic confidence.

The economy still is not back to a pre-2008 definition of normal, however. The headline unemployment rate measures only people who are looking for work. Since the post-crisis recession, however, many people dropped out of the work force, and they have been slow to come back in. Today’s report shows the labor-force participation rate at 62.9%, a marginal increase from a month ago, but still in line with a long-term decline. The rate is five points lower than it was at the turn of the century.

Another sign that the job market recovery remains soft: Average hourly wages in January were only up 2.2% compared to a year earlier. (While that’s an improvement over last month, wages grew around 4% per year prior to the Great Recession.) Long-term unemployment is also still at elevated levels.

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Modest wage growth helps to explain why inflation has remained low, even after stripping out the effect of falling prices at the gas pump. Core inflation, which strips away volatile energy and food prices, was up 1.6% year-over-year in December. That’s well below the 2% the Federal Reserve says it is targeting in deciding whether or not to raise key interest rates.

The Fed has been holding short-term rates near zero since the crisis, and is widely expected to begin raising rates this year as the economy improves. But they’ll have to weigh the encouraging signs from the new unemployment numbers against continued low inflation and wage growth, as well as the mounting economic troubles in Europe.

Sam Bullard, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities, shares the Fed’s belief that the labor market and economy are repairing, and thinks more hiring will push down the unemployment rate in the months to come, which will result in more money in worker’s paychecks. Eventually.

“Overall, we’re looking at an economy that’s improving,” says Bullard. “The one missing piece is a pickup in wage growth.”

MONEY Jobs

Why Is Employment Picking Up? Thank Government

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Reza Estakhrian—Getty Images

After hurting the employment picture for so long, local, state and federal governments are finally adding to payrolls.

The U.S. economy continued its winning streak by adding 252,000 jobs in December, the 11th consecutive month employers hired more than 200,000 workers. The unemployment rate fell to 5.6%, a post-recession low, as various sectors (from business services to health care to construction) added to payrolls.

Boosting hiring isn’t exactly new when it comes to private businesses, which have been bolstering their staffing for every month for almost five years.

What’s different about the recent pickup in employment is the positive effect of governments (state, local and federal). While jobs aren’t being added at rapid pace, they have grown steadily over the past year, and are no longer subtracting from the labor market like they were not too long ago.

Government employment increased by 12,000 in December, compared to a reduction of 2,000 employees in the last month of 2013. Compared to a year ago, state and local governments throughout the country have added a combined 108,000 jobs.

As recently as last January the government shed 22,000 positions. Sustained, incremental growth beats much of the sector’s post-recession record, which saw employment drop off thanks to lower tax revenue and austerity measures.

Government payrolls increased by about 0.5% over the last year — which doesn’t look terribly good compared to the private sector’s 2.1% gain. But when you look at the recent gains against the 0.05% decrease in the twelve months before January 2014, you start to appreciate the recent uptick.

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What’s going on?

Well, state and local government finances have stabilized and marginally improved over the past couple of years, giving statehouses and municipalities a chance to improve its fiscal situation.

Take this note from a recent National Association of State Budget Officers report which says, “In contrast to the period immediately following the Great Recession, consistent year-over-year growth has helped states steadily increase spending, reduce taxes and fees, close budget gaps and minimize mid-year budget cuts.”

The nation’s economy grew at an annualized 5% rate in the third quarter, after jumping 4.6% in the three months before. The trade deficit fell in November to an 11-month low, thanks in part to lower energy costs, which will help fourth quarter growth.

NASBO expects states’s revenues to increase by 3.1% in the next fiscal year, compared to an estimated 1.3% gain in 2014, with much of that spending dedicated to education and Medicaid.

With a more solid financial position, governments across the country are able to spend more on basic items, like construction. Public construction, for instance, increased by 3.2% last November compared to the same time last year, according to the Census Bureau.

Overall government spending has stopped following dramatically and actually picked up in the third quarter on a year-over-year basis.

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Of course, government employment still has a ways to go before returning to normal. In the five years after the dot-com inspired recession, public sector employment gained by 4.5%. (It’s fallen by 2.8% since the recession ended in June 2009.) And while state budgets have normalized, Governors aren’t exactly flush with cash.

Says NASBO: “More and more states are moving beyond recession induced declines, but spending growth is below average in fiscal 2015, as it has been throughout the economic recovery.”

Not to mention hourly earnings fell by five cents, to $24.57, a decline of 0.2%.

Still, some employment growth is better than none at all.

Updated with earnings data.

TIME

Economy Adds 214,000 Jobs in October, Unemployment Rate Drops to 5.8%

Jobseekers wait to talk to a recruiter at the Colorado Hospital Association's health care career event in Denver, Oct. 13, 2014.
Rick Wilking—Reuters Jobseekers wait to talk to a recruiter at the Colorado Hospital Association's health care career event in Denver, Oct. 13, 2014.

Unemployment rate drops to lowest level since July 2008

The Labor Department released last month’s employment figures Friday morning, and the report shows that the U.S. labor market has continued to post steady gains while some stubborn weak points still exist. Here are some key points from the October jobs report.

What you need to know: October was the 56th straight month of private-sector job gains in the U.S., and monthly gains have averaged about 227,000 so far this year. The job market has been steadily improving, which is good news. However, on the downside, hourly wages have struggled to make gains and the number of long-term unemployed is still almost 50% higher than it was before the recession hit.

The Federal Reserve, which had continually worried that the labor market is not as healthy as it hoped nearly seven years after the start of the Great Recession, eased up on its view following its meeting last week. The Fed issued this cautiously worded update on its outlook:

“On balance, a range of labor market indicators suggests that underutilization of labor resources is gradually diminishing.”

The big numbers: The U.S. labor market added 214,000 jobs in October, falling shy of economists’ estimates of 235,000 jobs, according to Bloomberg data. The unemployment rate dropped unexpectedly to 5.8% —its lowest level since July 2008 — compared to an anticipated 5.9%. Private employers added 209,000 jobs.

Hourly wages ticked up by 2 cents last month, while the number of long-term unemployed was little changed at 2.9 million.

What you may have missed: October’s gains keep the U.S. labor market on track for its best annual performance since 1999. That year an average 265,000 Americans found jobs every month. The October job additions are a pick-up from the recent three-month average of 224,000 jobs.

The continued growth comes amid global worries of slowing economic growth, although there’s little indication that it has spilled over into the U.S. labor market.

“It all speaks to the story that the U.S. can sustain pretty strong growth even when there are concerns about growth slowing in places like China and the euro zone,” said Jeff Greenberg, a senior economist at JP Morgan Private Bank in New York.

Some of the biggest job gains last month went to the professional and business, and healthcare sectors, which added 37,000 and 25,000 jobs, respectively. Retail hiring has also accelerated as stores geared up for the holiday season ahead, and service-sector employment, which increased by 12,000, is at a nine-year high, according to a note from Goldman Sachs economist Kris Dawsey.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

Read next: Let’s Fix It: Blame Unemployment on the Color Blue

MONEY Jobs

Unemployment Rate Falls to 5.9% on Strong Job Growth

The unemployment rate is the lowest since 2008.

The economy added 248,000 jobs in September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, beating analyst expectations and improving significantly over August’s disappointing numbers. The bureau’s last monthly release showed the U.S. only adding 142,000 jobs, the fewest in eight months. Friday’s data could help quell any fears of a worsening employment climate.

Today’s nonfarm payroll report also showed the unemployment rate falling to 5.9%, down from 6.1% in August and the lowest since July of 2008. The labor force participation rate — the percentage of the workforce that is either employed or actively looking for work — remained mostly static at 62.7% as older Americans continue to drop out of the work force. The unemployment rate has dropped by 0.7% in 2014, but still remains about 1.5 percentage points higher than its pre-crisis lows.

 

Despite an increase in hiring, average hourly earnings did not budge. Wages growth was static in September, and hourly wages have increased just 2% over the year.

Economists and investors have been closely watching monthly jobs numbers, partly to glean insight into when the Federal Reserve will begin to raise interest rates. Fed chair Janet Yellen has made employment growth a key factor in determining monetary policy, and repeatedly cited labor market slack as a reason for keeping rates at historic lows. However, as MONEY’s Taylor Tepper notes, Yellen is unlikely to raise interest rates in the near future due to inconsistent employment numbers and concerns over a shaky global economy, particularly in Europe.

MONEY’s Pat Regnier points out that while consumer spending has largely recovered since the housing crash, construction and government spending has not. Until public spending begins to return to pre-recession levels, job growth may continue to be especially sluggish. September showed little increase in government spending.

MONEY Jobs report

How the Fed Will React to Today’s Surprising Jobs News

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altrendo images—Getty Images

The fact that employers created fewer jobs than expected in August only emboldens the Federal Reserve to keep rates low for the time being.

The Fed is unlikely to raise interest rates this year — and not just because of Friday’s disappointing jobs report.

Though the economy fell short of adding 200,000 jobs in August — as it had in the six prior months — the unemployment rate remains at a better-than-expected 6.1%. Consumer confidence, meanwhile, rose in August and the economy grew by a robust 4.2% last quarter.

Many have long-waited for the time when the economy picks up and the Federal Reserve raises interest rates along with it. Even the presidents of the St. Louis and Philadelphia Federal Banks recently said the nation’s central bank should raise interest rates sooner than expected thanks to job gains and slightly rising inflation.

But given muted inflation and the growing concerns in Europe — where the economy threatens to slip back into recession and central bankers are still slashing rates in a desperate attempt to jumpstart business activity in the region — Fed chair Janet Yellen was unlikely to act soon. And today’s Labor Department report, showing that only a modest 142,000 jobs were created in August, only reinforces this.

Jobs

The unemployment rate has already dropped more than half a percentage point this year.

US Unemployment Rate Chart

US Unemployment Rate data by YCharts

But that’s just one way to look at the labor market. Another is the labor force participation rate. Since younger Americans tend to go school, and Baby Boomers are beginning to retire en masse, you can look at the participation rate for workers between the ages of 25 to 54. Before the recession almost 80% of those Americans were working or looking for a job. Now, 77% are. To put that into perspective, 81% of prime aged workers in France participate in the labor force.

Another, more inclusive, employment metric is the so-called U-6 rate of unemployment — which includes unemployed workers, Americans who want to work but have stopped looking for a job, and part-time workers who’d rather put in full-time hours. The U-6 rate has dropped from about 17% after the recession to 12% now, but that’s still close to four percentage points higher than before 2008.

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Here’s Yellen from her Jackson Hole speech a couple of weeks ago:

At nearly 5% of the labor force, the number of such workers is notably larger, relative to the unemployment rate, than has been typical historically, providing another reason why the current level of the unemployment rate may understate the amount of remaining slack in the labor market.

Inflation

Despite predictions of increased inflation thanks to unorthodox monetary policy, deflation has been a bigger concern since the recession than inflation. Nevertheless, some central bank officials are still worried about an unexpected rise in prices thanks to an improving jobs situation and want to head off that potential rise with higher interest rates.

As Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser said on a Bloomberg Radio interview, “I would rather us get started raising rates sooner and raise them more gradually than put them off and have to raise them very quickly.”

The Congressional Budget Office disagrees. The non-partisan agency predicted that over the next 10 years inflation will only rise around 2% a year, in a recent report. “CBO anticipates that prices will rise at a modest pace over the next several years reflecting slack in the economy and widely held expectations for low and stable inflation.”

Right now core inflation, according to the Federal Reserve’s preferred measurement, grew by 1.5% in July over the previous 12 months. That’s well below the Fed’s target rate of 2%.

Europe

Depressed Americans need only look across the pond to see how badly our recovery could be going. The Euro zone area experienced no growth in the second three months of 2014. Combine that with ultra-low inflation and you have the recipe for economic stagnation. Even the vaunted German economy stalled.

This three-year experience of little economic traction follows the European Central Bank’s decision to raise interest rates in 2011 during the sovereign debt crisis in order to fight inflation. Quash it they did. Prices recently rose by an annual rate of only 0.3% in August in the 18-country Euro zone, prompting ECB President Mario Draghi (who wasn’t in charge back then) to drop interest rates to an all-time low of 0.05%.

Eventually American consumers will see raises and go off and spend that extra cash. Demand will not stay depressed forever, and the Fed will one day raise interest rates. That decision, though, is more likely to be later than sooner.

MONEY

Job Report Misses Expectations, Fewest Jobs Added in 8 Months

The U.S. economy added only 142,000 jobs in August, the slowest employment growth in 8 months.

The economy added 142,000 jobs in August, substantially missing analyst expectations, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists had predicted another month of high employment gains, with estimates predicting that 225,000 positions would be added. Instead, the August hiring missed that number by almost 40% and signalled the lowest employment growth in eight months. Unemployment remained virtually static at 6.1%.

The report also showed the number of long-term unemployed persons declined by 192,000 to 3 million in August. This group currently makes up about a third of the overall unemployed population, but has declined by 1.3 million over the past year. The labor force participation rate — the percentage of workforce that is either employed or actively looking for work — remained mostly unchanged at 62.8%.

Friday’s numbers were a surprise considering recent economic growth.

One important question is how the Federal Reserve will interpret the report. As MONEY’s Taylor Tepper reports, Fed chair Janet Yellen has made stronger employment growth a core part of her monetary policy, and has signaled the Fed will raise interest rates only when slack in the labor market decreases. Slow job growth may convince the central bank to hold back on rate increases even longer and wait for further employment gains.

MONEY Economy

WATCH: Job Growth Continues, But Unemployment Rises Too

The economy has added at least 200,000 jobs per month for six straight months, the longest such streak since 1997.

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