A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Jobs reports: better than pokes in the eye?

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Oct. 22, 23 or 24

At this midway point between government jobs reports for September and October, we dance between dread and delight.
Will the data scheduled to be released Nov. 6 be good news? Will statistics show the general mixed bag of the Oct. 2 report? Or could forthcoming numbers even reveal bad news?

Payrolls last month increased less than anticipated, wages stayed stalled, and the unemployment rate was unchanged, possibly showing that a global slowdown and Wall Street volatility are slowing an already-sluggish economic recovery in the nation.

U.S. employers claimed to have added 142,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Labor Department, which also revised the previous two months jobs reports down 59,000 jobs, changing the monthly average for the last three months to 167,000.

There was mixed, or neutral, information in the report:
* Even a disappointing gain in jobs is better than a loss.
* Wages didn’t fall much; the average hourly wage last month was down 0.3 percent from August.
* The jobless rate didn’t get worse.

Besides downward adjustments to previous reports, there were other significant negatives:
* Factory payrolls decreased by 9,000.
* The “participation rate” of people actually in the labor force declined to 62.4 percent from 62.6 percent – the lowest in 38 years.

There also were a few positives:
* Retailers added 23,700 jobs, leading other net gains in leisure & hospitality and education.
* The jobless rate, though static, was at its lowest point since 2008.
* The number of part-time workers who’d prefer to work full-time dropped from 6.4 million to 6 million people.
* Together with “discouraged” workers – those who’d given up even looking for employment – the part-timers who’s rather work full-time declined from 10.3 percent of the work force to 10 percent, the lowest in seven years.

“On the whole this report suggests the labor market is considerably weaker than had been generally believed,” said economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

“While the unemployment rate was unchanged, there was a drop of 0.2 percentage points in both the labor force participation rate and the employment-to-population ratio,” Baker continued. “The share of unemployment due to people who voluntarily quit their jobs remained at the low 9.8-percent rate of August, a level typically seen in recessions.

“The one piece of clear good news in the survey was a drop of 447,000 in the number of people working part-time for economic reasons,” he added. “This number is erratic, but this is an unusually large one-month decline.”

In a separate report out two weeks earlier, the Labor Department’s summary of the year’s first quarter showed rising employment in 323 of the 342 largest counties in the country, and a wage increase of 2.1 percent since the first quarter of 2014. However, the state of Illinois generally didn’t perform well. For example, Peoria’s employment dropped 0.4 percent from March 2014 to March 2015, and wages increased just 2.6 percent. Winnebago County (the Rockford area) increased employment, but only 0.5 percent, with a 2.3 percent wage improvement; Madison County (the Illinois side of metro St. Louis) increased employment just 0.6 percent and had a scant 0.4 improvement in wages.

We wait and wonder, and hope and pray.

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