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

 

 

MONEY Workplace

Here’s How to Deal With Noisy Neighbors at Work

How should you deal with a loud co-worker? MONEY's Donna Rosato gives some tips on how to stay productive with noisy colleagues.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 22

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

1. Want to improve your bottom line? Diversify your workplace.

By Joann S. Lublin in the Wall Street Journal

2. Journalism shouldn’t be a transaction for communities. A local news lab can make it transformational.

By Josh Stearns in Medium

3. The spike of hysteria about artificial intelligence could threaten valuable research.

By Erik Sofge in Popular Science

4. A new vision for securing work and protecting jobs can ensure stability in the face of rising automation.

By Guy Ryder at the World Economic Forum

5. Purchasing carbon offsets is easy. With carbon ‘insetting,’ a business folds sustainable decisions into the supply chain.

By Tim Smedley in the Guardian

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

Americans View Obama’s Economic Impact More Favorably

More Americans think the economy is improving

President Obama’s job approval rating is improving, a new survey reported .

The Pew Research Center survey, which polled 1,504 adults between Jan. 7-11, reports that Obama’s job approval rating is five points higher than it was in December, at 42%. Pew says his ratings are on the up and up thanks to views among Americans that the economy is improving (somewhat). Overall, Americans who believe the economy is doing well increased 11% since Obama’s 2014 State of the Union.

Among those surveyed, 27% say economic conditions are good or excellent–which at first glance might seem low but is actually 16% higher than last year. Thirty-one percent say they expect the economy to be better rather than worse in a year from now. A year ago, only 17% thought this to be true.

The survey shows that for the first time in five years 38% of those surveyed say Obama’s economic policies have made conditions better. Twenty-eight percent say he’s made them worse and 30% say there’s been no effect. Sixty-six percent of Americans say the economy is recovering, but not strongly. Only 16% say the economy is growing strongly, though the report’s authors note that this is a growing population.

TIME Jobs

Dentists Have the Best Job in America

But doctors still make more money

Sorry, anti-dentites, but dentistry has been crowned as the best occupation in the United States by U.S. News and World Report.

The website placed dentists atop its annual list of the country’s 100 best jobs. Nurses came in at No. 2, followed by software developers, doctors and dental hygienists.

The rankings are compiled by evaluating multiple criteria, including an occupation’s future growth prospects, median salary, employment rate, stress level and work-life balance. Dentists earn a median salary of $146,000 and the number of dental jobs available is expected to grow by almost 16 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Though dentists have the best jobs, doctors have the best-paying jobs, according to U.S. News and World Report. The website also deemed public relations practitioner the best creative job, market research analyst the best business job and software developer the best STEM job.

MONEY Jobs

The 5 Best Jobs You’ve Never Heard Of

Medical Equipment Repair Technician
Sigrid Gombert—Getty Images

If you're itching for a career change in 2015, here are some fast-growing, high-paying options that have yet to hit the mainstream.

Good news, job seekers: employment opportunities look bright in 2015. Staffing levels are expected to rise 19%, according to ManpowerGroup’s annual Employment Outlook Survey. Robust hiring gains are forecast for the “usual suspects,” says Payscale.com’s vice president Tim Low—namely retail, healthcare, and technology. But peel back those broad categories, and you’ll uncover high demand for unique talents and skill sets and a bunch of new jobs you may not even know existed.

“As we shift away from conventional jobs and move forward into the information economy, there are a growing number of opportunities for workers to transfer skills in seemingly unrelated fields,” says Stephanie Thomas, researcher and program director at the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University.

Additionally, job titles are becoming more diverse, says Scott Dobroski, career trends analyst at Glassdoor, an employer review website. “Employers are looking for innovative ways to do business and are therefore [allocating money] to brand-new positions,” he says.

So if you’re itching for a change in 2015, here are some ways to break into these high-paying, still-under-the-radar careers—all of which are growing at a rate far greater than the 11% national average.

1. If you’re an: executive assistant or medical administrator, consider becoming a… NUCLEAR MEDICINE TECHNOLOGIST

What it is: Don’t let the title scare you off; the position only calls for a degree from an accredited program, so no med school required. This health care professional operates specialized equipment including computed tomography (CT) scanners, gamma cameras, positron emission tomography (PET) scanners, and other imaging tools that physicians and surgeons use to diagnose conditions and plan treatments.

How your skills translate: Attention to detail and good interpersonal skills—already at the heart of your current job—are crucial. Nuclear medicine technologists must follow instructions to the letter when operating equipment; even a minor error can result in overexposure to radiation. A background in math and/or science is a plus.

Why it’s growing: “Jobs are developing rapidly at the intersection of health care and technology,” says John Reed, senior executive director at IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology.

Education requirements: 2-year associate’s degree and 1- to 4-year accreditation program. For more information on requirements, check out the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI), or use this state-by-state map for a list of accredited programs in your region.

Average salary: $71,120

Projected job growth through 2022: 20%

2. If you’re a mechanic, handyman, or computer repairer, consider becoming a… MEDICAL EQUIPMENT REPAIRER

What it is: Someone who installs, maintains, and repairs patient care equipment. However, given the sensitive nature of medical technology, specialized repair skills are required. These can be obtained through an associate’s degree in biomedical equipment technology or engineering; workers who operate less-complicated equipment (e.g., hospital beds and electric wheelchairs), meanwhile, can typically learn entirely on the job.

How your skills translate: Troubleshooting, dexterity, analytical thinking, and technical expertise—skills already in your toolbox—make for an efficient medical equipment repairer.

Why it’s growing: The increasing demand for health care services assures rapid growth for this specialty.

Education requirements: Typically a 2-year degree in biomedical equipment technology or engineering. Go here for information about obtaining a certification for Biomedical Equipment Technician (BMET).

Average salary: $44,180

Projected job growth through 2022: 30%

3. If you’re an IT specialist, computer programmer, or Web developer, consider becoming a… DIGITAL RISK OFFICER

What it is: To prevent data breaches—and better protect sensitive client and customer information—employers are beefing up their cyber security forces. A digital risk officer proactively assesses risks and implements security measures.

Why it’s growing: Recent hacks at Sony, Target, and Home Depot have put more companies on high alert. “Regardless of industry or size, if you have sensitive client information, you have to look carefully at what your security threats are,” says Cornell’s Thomas.

How your skills translate: Your analytical mindset, computer savvy, and problem-solving skills apply to the core responsibility of a digital risk officer: outthinking cybercriminals.

Education requirements: 2- or 4-year degree in IT and digital analytics certification. You’ll likely start as an information security analyst and need to complete a risk assessment training program as well.

Average salary: $153,602 for a chief risk officer, according to Payscale estimates.

Projected job growth: The field is so new that specific data isn’t available, but by 2017, one-third of large employers with a digital component will employ a digital risk officer, reports IT research firm Gartner.

4. If you’re a nutritionist, rehabilitation counselor, or athletic trainer, consider becoming a… HEALTH-AND-WELLNESS EDUCATOR

What it is: Previously outsourced, many companies are now hiring in-house specialists to offer health-and-wellness advice and services, says Brie Reynolds, director of online content at FlexJobs.com, which saw a spike in job postings for this position. The educator works with employees individually to assess personal health issues and create strategies tailored to each person’s needs.

Why it’s growing. Health improvements made by employees not only curb insurance costs but also boost job satisfaction, a key ingredient to retaining talent. Some employers are tying financial incentives to health-and-wellness achievements—discounting health insurance premiums for employees who lose weight, quit smoking, or lower blood pressure, among other behavioral changes.

How your skills translate: Pure and simple, you’re a “people person.” Your ability to connect with individuals and motivate them to make behavioral changes will come in handy when promoting healthy living strategies to workers.

Education requirements: 4-year degree and health education specialist certification. The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing has information on requirements and eligibility.

Average salary: $62,280

Projected job growth through 2022: 21%

5. If you’re a management consultant, consider becoming an… INDUSTRIAL-ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST

What it is: Companies hire industrial-organizational psychologists to improve work performance, job satisfaction, and skills training. This person is responsible for managing and developing a range of programs, including hiring systems, performance measurement, and health-and-safety policies.

How your skills translate: Your ability to assess an organization’s structural efficiency will serve you well in your new job. Like you, an industrial-organizational psychologist must work well with corporate clients to identify areas for improvement and increased profitability.

Why it’s growing: While not new, this lesser-known job tops the BLS’s list of the fastest-growing occupations. Chalk it up to its track record of success; surveys show the position effectively boosts work performance and improves employee retention rates.

Education requirements: Master’s degree. Check out Careers in Psychology for more information.

Average salary: $80,330

Projected job growth through 2022: 53%

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the equipment that nuclear medicine technologists can operate. They can operate CT and PET scanners but require additional certification to operate MRI equipment.

Read next: The Foolproof Way to Make Sure You Land a Big Raise This Year

 

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

MONEY Jobs

Why Is Employment Picking Up? Thank Government

public construction workers
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.

Gov't jobs

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.

Expenditure

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.

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