Friday, September 1, 2017

August Was a Blah Jobs Month, With AJSN Still 17.6 Million – Is That Good or Bad?

This morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data has arrived, and everything’s the same as it was.

Reminiscent of those signs saying something like “on this spot in 1897, nothing happened,” we treaded water, ran in place, broke even, didn’t change, went nowhere. 

We did, though, see some small variability between metrics.  There were 156,000 net new nonfarm payroll jobs created, a tad lower than a 180,000 estimate but still about 25,000 more than our population increase soaked up.  The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate ticked up 0.1% to get to 4.4%, but the unadjusted equivalent was down a similar amount to 4.5%, an unusual combination given two generally similar months.  The number of unemployed adjusted to 7.1 million, up 100,000, but the long-term jobless, or those with that official status but without work for 27-plus weeks, fell the same amount to 1.7 million.  The labor force participation rate held at 62.9%, though the other measure best showing how common it is for Americans to have jobs, the employment-population ratio, shed 0.1% to reach 60.1%.  The count of those working part-time for economic reasons, or maintaining short-hours employment while looking for full-time opportunities, had its third straight month of 5.3 million.  After a substantial July increase, average private nonfarm hourly wages rose only 3 cents per hour, less than inflation, and is now at $26.39. 

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, which shows how many additional positions could be quickly absorbed if getting one were as easy as getting a pizza, was almost unchanged from July, down 20,000 as follows:


The largest changes to the AJSN came from lower official unemployment, which cut latent demand by 138,600, and more people not technically jobless but wanting work and not searching for it in the previous year, which increased the AJSN by 85,600.  The trend toward demand for jobs coming from those with non-unemployed statuses continued, with a new low of 37.2% of the AJSN from those officially jobless.  Despite generally good economic times, the set of people neither working nor technically unemployed is ready to take over 11 million positions – other than, of course, those being advertised now.

Compared with August 2016, the AJSN is down almost 400,000, with the officially-jobless and discouraged-worker shares, down 638,000 and 115,000, partially offset by 100,000-plus gains in the demand from American expatriates, those not looking for a year or more, and non-civilian, institutionalized, and people off the grid.

Is this stasis a good or bad thing?  We have certainly seen worse situations to camp out in.  Yet we are still short a lot of jobs.  We are still finding improvements in some places, such as the number of positions, and the big domestic news event of the past month, Hurricane Harvey and its massive rainfall, promises to create much employment.  Barring the start of a recession, which could happen any times, better times are coming soon, so I vote for August as “good enough.”  Accordingly, while we may need a microscope to see it, the turtle, did, again, take a step forward. 

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