The jobs market stayed strong last month: Employers added 263,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate held at 3.7%, near the lowest level in a half-century, the Labor Department said on Friday.
Why it matters: The figures are the latest signal of a roaring labor market that continues to defy fears of a recession.
November’s payroll gains are above the addition of 200,000 jobs that economists had expected.
By the numbers: Job growth last month was slightly slower than the 284,000, added in October, which was revised up by 23,000. In September, the economy added 269,000 jobs, 46,000 fewer than initially estimated.
Average hourly earnings, a measure of wage growth, rose by 0.6% in November — faster than the prior month, when earnings rose by 0.5%. Over the past year ending in November, average hourly earnings increased by 5.1%.
The share of people working or looking for work, known as the labor force participation rate, ticked down to 62.1%, compared to 62.2% in October.
The backdrop: Economists have been bracing for cracks in the labor market thathave yet to appear.
It has been an ugly stretch for layoffs in a handful of sectors like technology, with large-scale job cuts announced at Meta, Amazon and Twitter.
But overall, the booming job markethas continued for workers, even in the face of ultra-aggressive efforts by the Federal Reserve to try to cool demand for labor to help put a lid on inflation.
Last month, Fed chair Jerome Powell said that employers bidding up wages to attract workers is not “the principal story of why prices are going up.”
Still, the labor market may point to clues about how inflation will evolve in certain categories, including industries within the services sector where wages make up the biggest costs for businesses, Powell said on Wednesday.
The report comes on the heels of negative GDP growth during the first half of the year. In the January through March period, the economy contracted at a 1.6% annual rate. In the second quarter, the economy shrank at a 0.6% annualized pace.
Between the lines: The latest GDP report is among the final major economic data releases before the midterm elections, where voters have ranked the economy as a critical issue.
The labor market is solid, with the unemployment rate at the lowest level in over 50 years. But soaring inflation has eaten away at Americans’ wage gains.
The backdrop: The Federal Reserve is trying to engineer an economic slowdown in a bid to crush high inflation. It has swiftly raised borrowing costs five times this year, with another big increase likely ahead at its upcoming policy meeting next week.
What they’re saying: “For months, doomsayers have been arguing that the US economy is in a recession and Congressional Republicans have been rooting for a downturn,” President Biden said in a statement. “But today we got further evidence that our economic recovery is continuing to power forward.”
Consumer prices were unchanged in July, as plunging prices for gasoline dragged the Consumer Price Index down to zero. Core inflation, which excludes energy and food, rose only 0.3%, below what analysts expected.
Driving the news: The Labor Department reported that overall consumer prices rose 0% last month, and are up 8.5% over the past year. That compares to a 9.1% year-over-year reported in June.
Why it matters: Falling gasoline prices are clearly giving American consumers some inflation relief, and the broader inflation picture was more favorable in July than economists had expected.
By the numbers: Gasoline prices fell 7.7% in July, dragging down headline inflation. Other items with falling prices included used cars and trucks (-0.4%) and airfares (down 7.8%).
But rents kept rising, a major factor in stubbornly high underlying inflation. Renters faced a 0.7% rise in costs.
What’s next: The Federal Reserve has indicated it intends to keep raising interest rates until there is clear evidence inflation is waning. After two straight months of extremely hot inflation readings, this report will be welcome news.
Initial jobless claims, week ended March 19: 187,000 vs.210,000 expected and a revised 215,000 during prior week
Continuing claims, week ended March 12: 1.350 millionvs.1.400 million expected and a revised 1.417 million during prior week
At 187,000, new jobless claims improved for a back-to-back week and reached the lowest level since September 1969. Continuing claims also fell further to reach 1.35 million — the least since January 1970.
The labor market has remained a point of strength in the U.S. economy, with job openings still elevated but coming down from record levels as more workers rejoin the labor force from the sidelines.
Going forward, however, some economists warned that new cases of the fast-spreading sub-variant of Omicron, known as BA.2, could at least temporarily disrupt mobility and economic activity across the country. As of this week, about one-third of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have been attributed to the sub-variant, though overall new infections have still been trending down from January’s record high. The impact on the labor market — and on demand in the service sector especially — remains to be seen.
“Right now, U.S. cases are in the sweet spot between the bottom of the initial Omicron wave and the impending explosion in BA.2 cases, but this probably won’t last long,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a note this week. “Our bet … is that the coming BA.2 wave will trigger a modest but visible pull-back in the discretionary services sector, thereby dampening consumption in the first month of the second quarter.”
Still, many economists and policymakers have pointed out that the labor market withstood prior disruptions due to the Omicron wave earlier this year. Non-farm payrolls grew more than expected in each of January and February despite the outbreak.
“The labor market has substantial momentum. Employment growth powered through the difficult Omicron wave, adding 1.75 million jobs over the past three months,” Powell said in a speech Monday. “By many measures, the labor market is extremely tight, significantly tighter than the very strong job market just before the pandemic.”
The tightness of the labor market has also strongly informed the Fed’s decisions in pressing ahead with tightening monetary policy, with the economy showing clear signs of strength and the ability to handle less accommodative financial conditions. Last week, the Fed raised interest rates by 25 basis points in its first rate hike since 2018. And St. Louis Fed President Jim Bullard, the lone dissenter of that decision who had called for a more aggressive 50 basis point rate hike last week, justified his vote in part given the strength of the U.S. labor market even in the face of decades-high rates of inflation.
“U.S. labor markets are today already stronger than they have been in a generation,” Bullard said in a statement.
First-time unemployment filings fell by 8,000 claims from the previous week’s reading, marking the second lowest print during the pandemic and signaling continued recovery in the labor market as high demand for workers pours into the new year.
The Labor Department released its latest report on initial and continuing claims on Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Here were the main metrics from the print, compared to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg:
Initial jobless claims, week ended Dec. 25: 198,000 vs. 206,000 expected and upwardly revised to 206,000 during prior week
Continuing claims, week ended Dec. 18: 1.716 million vs. 1.875 million expected and downwardly revised to 1.856 million during prior week
The newest print brings the four-week moving average to 199,300 in the week ending Dec. 25, Bloomberg data reflected. Continuing claims dropped to a fresh pandemic low of 1.716 million. Forecast for this week’s jobless claims release ranged from 190,000-225,000 from 22 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
First-time filings for unemployment remained below the 2019 average of 218,000, when the unemployment rate was at a half-century low of 3.5%, according to Bloomberg. The current unemployment rate is also expected to edge down to 4.1% in December as the labor market continues to tighten.
At 205,000, last week’s initial unemployment claims were on par with economist forecasts and below pre-pandemic levels yet again. Earlier in December, jobless claims fell sharply to 188,000, the lowest level since 1969. The prints serve an early indication of the relative strength expected to show in December’s jobs report, though the economic impact of the virus remains unclear.
“Fortunately, there’s no evidence in this data of a new wave of fresh job loss,” Bankrate senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick said, commenting on last week’s figures. “New claims are only slightly above the lowest point in decades notched a couple of weeks ago.”
“With so much uncertainty now and the high level of concern about the Omicron variant, we’ll take stability when we can get it,” Hamrick added.
“It’s stunning to see how much the rate has fallen in the last five months,” he told Yahoo Finance Live. “We expect that pace of decline to slow, but it doesn’t take much to get below 4%, even with a tick up in the labor participation rate, which has been depressed over the last year and a half.”
Record cases of COVID-19 may discourage workers from looking for work as U.S. households continue to cite fear of COVID or virus-related caretaking needs as reasons for staying out of the job market.
“The pandemic’s resurgence is affecting the economy,” Hamrick said in a note last week. “The question is for how long and how much, and it is too early to know the answers.”
The $1.7 trillion “social infrastructure” legislation passed by the House and now before the Senate would spur growth, expand employment and boost productivity with limited inflationary impact, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
The spending “would occur over 10 years, include significant revenue-raising offsets and would likely only start to flow into the economy later in 2022 at a time when inflationary pressures from disruptions to global supply chains and U.S. labor supply will likely have diminished,” Moody’s Vice President-Senior Analyst Rebecca Karnovitz said.
“Investments in childcare, education and workforce development have the potential to boost labor force participation and increase productivity over the medium and longer term,” she said. While the Senate will likely insist on amendments, the Build Back Better (BBB) bill currently would invest $555 billion in clean energy and “climate resilience” and $585 billion in childcare, universal prekindergarten and paid family leave.
CFOs concerned about rising prices and the risk of a wage-price spiral have found sympathy from some lawmakers who warn that the $5.7 trillion in spending Congress has already approved during the pandemic will further stoke inflation.
“Inflation is hammering working families across America,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the chamber last week. The Kentucky Republican called BBB a “socialist wish list” and an inflationary “taxing and spending spree.”
Some Democrats — including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — have cautioned that excessive spending could push up prices and worsen the fiscal outlook.
Sinema and Manchin have said that they want less costly legislation. With Democrats holding the smallest possible Senate majority, support from the two senators is essential for final passage of the bill.
“I have been concerned about high levels of spending that are not targeted or are not efficient and effective,” Sinema told the Washington Post on Nov. 18 while noting rising inflation.
“The threat posed by record inflation to the American people is not ‘transitory’ and is instead getting worse,” Manchin said on Twitter this month after the Labor Department reported that consumer prices rose 6.2% in October on an annual basis.
CFOs face even higher price gains for wholesale goods. The producer price index for final demand, a measure of what suppliers charge, soared 8.6% in October from the prior year, according to the Labor Department. That was a record jump in a series of data first published in 2010.
The Moody’s analysis suggests that concerns about the impact of BBB on inflation and the U.S. fiscal outlook may be overblown.
“We expect the spending package to have a limited impact on inflation,” Moody’s said.
Referring to the U.S. credit outlook, Moody’s said, “we expect the legislation to have only a small effect on the sovereign’s fiscal position, given that the spending would be spread over a decade and the revenue-raising measures would help offset the impact on federal budget deficits.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the House version of BBB would push up fiscal deficits by $367 billion over a 10-year period.
Yet the estimate excludes about $200 billion in revenue that would come from a provision in the bill funding tougher tax enforcement and collection, Moody’s said.
“Estimates of the bill’s impact on the deficit are likely to shift in accordance with provisions that may be stripped from the Senate’s final version of the legislation,” according to Moody’s.
Unemployment claims jumped last week, as the delta variant of the coronavirus sparked rising caseloads around the country and renewed fears about the potential for more restrictions and business closures.
The number of new claims grew to 419,000 from 368,000, the third time in six weeks that they had ticked up, according to data from the Department of Labor.
Economists said the uptick was concerning but cautioned that it was too early to tell whether it was a one week aberration or telegraphed a more concerning turn for the labor market.
“The unexpected bump in claims could be noise in the system, but it’s also not hard to see how the rise of the covid-19 delta variant could add thousands of layoffs to numbers that already are double what they were pre-Covid,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.
Overall, unemployment numbers have been falling gradually from the peaks at other stages of the pandemic, but they are still well above pre-pandemic averages.
The jobless numbers have provided a jarring catalogue about the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic — spiking to records as the pandemic unfolded in March 2020, and remaining at historic high levels throughout most of 2020.
The coronavirus surge last fall helped precipitate a rise in claims that saw the labor market, as seen in the monthly jobs report, slide backward too.
But until recently, the last few months been marked by strong jobs growth and a sense of optimism as vaccinations picked up, giving economists hope that the country was back on track to recovering the nearly 7 million jobs it is still down from before the pandemic.
Now, the delta variant is driving an alarming increase in covid-19 cases around the country, according to public health officials: the number of new cases increased more than 40 percent in the last week, sending jitters through the stock market, and is raising questions about whether state and local health authorities will reinstitute restrictions to slow the virus’ spread.
Frick said that the report showed the potential for unemployment claims to start trending upward after months of steady declines.
“There’s definitely a correlation, however loose, that the rise in covid does cause a rise in claims,” he said. “My fear is that the rise in the delta variant could cause claims to go back up…Certainly one week doesn’t show that. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see claims rise.”
However, there are also lots of signs that the economy continues to rebound despite rising caseloads.
The more than 2.2 million people that the Transportation Security Administration said it screened at airports on Sunday was the most since late February 2020 — and nearly three times the amount it was on the same day last year.
Restaurant dining has largely rebounded in recent months, at times surpassing the levels from before the pandemic — on Saturday the number of diners was 1 percent higher than the same day in 2019, according to data from Open Table.
Last week, some 12.5 million claims were filed for unemployment insurance overall, according to the most recent numbers — down from 32.9 million filed at the same point last year.
Nevada, Rhode Island and California topped the list of states with the highest number of people on unemployment, the Labor Department said.
Economic concerns in recent months have been more focused on the ways that workers are still held back from filling some of the more than 9 million job openings in the country, than unemployment, with high hopes that school re-openings in the fall will help many parents get back into the labor force.
While CFOs, on the whole, remain optimistic about an economic rebound this year, they’re concerned about labor availability and accompanying cost pressures,according to a quarterly survey by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta.
Over 75% of CFOs included in the survey said their companies faced challenges in finding workers. More than half of that group also said worker shortage reduced their revenue—especially for small businesses. The survey panel includes 969 CFOs across the U.S.
“CFOs expect revenue and employment to rise notably through the rest of 2021,” Sonya Ravindranath Waddell, VP and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond said. “[But] over a third of firms anticipated worker shortages to reduce revenue potential in the year.”
As many companies struggle to find employees and meet renewed product demand, it’s unsurprising CFOs anticipate both cost and price increases, Waddell said.
About four out of five CFO respondents reported larger-than-normal cost increases at their firms, which they expect will last for several more months. They anticipate the bulk of these cost increases will be passed along to the consumer, translating into higher-priced services.
Despite labor concerns, CFOs are reporting higher optimism than last quarter, ranking their optimism at 74.9 on a scale of zero to 100, a 1.7 jump. They rated their optimism towards the overall U.S. economy at an average of 69 out of 100, a 1.3 increase over last quarter.
For many CFOs, revenue has dipped below 2019 levels due to worker shortage, and in some cases, material shortages, Waddell told Fortune last week. Even so, spending is on the rise, which respondents chalked up to a reopening economy.
“Our calculations indicate that, if we extrapolate from the CFO survey results, the labor shortage has reduced revenues across the country by 2.1%,” Waddell added. “In 2019, we didn’t face [the] conundrum of nine million vacancies combined with nine million unemployed workers.”