After last month’s disappointing jobs report, we may have reason to celebrate. The U.S. economy added 271,000 jobs in October, nudging the unemployment rate down to 5 percent, from 5.1 percent.
August and September’s numbers were revised: up 17,000 and down 5,000, respectively. The U.S. economy added 12,000 more jobs than were previously reported. That brings us to a grand total of 290,000 jobs for those two months.
Payrolls +271k, well above expectations of +181k. Unemployment down again to 5.0% August revised up 17k, September down -5k. YUUUGE numbers
— Justin Wolfers (@JustinWolfers) November 6, 2015
Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the conservative American Action Forum said the thing that stuck out the most was “the absence of a bad number.”
But why is there such a huge difference between September and October jobs reports? “Months like September are disappointing, but if you put it together with October, we have a reasonable number,” Holtz-Eakin said. “That is the trend we are on.”
“It is a little bit peculiar,” said Dean Baker of the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research. “Were August and September the anomalies, or is October the anomaly?”
Another weird thing happened between September and October. Average hourly earnings rose by 9 cents in October — all of this, after average hourly earnings rose a mere 1 cent in September. So why are we seeing wage growth now? When one month is very low, the next month is typically very high, said Baker. While the increase this month does show some acceleration, he notes that a better gauge of wage growth is the three-month average, which shows that wages have risen at a 2.7 percent annual rate. As we always say here, never put too much stock into one month’s numbers.
Since last October, hourly earnings have risen by 2.5 percent. “We’ve had the best real wage growth over the past 12 months since 2009,” Labor Secretary Tom Perez told CNBC Friday morning.
And there is more good news: The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ U6, a more comprehensive measurement of labor underutilization, dropped below 10 percent in October — the lowest it’s been since May 2008. Our “Solman Scale U7” — which takes into account part-time workers looking for full-time work, anyone who says they want a job no matter how long it’s been since they last looked, in addition to the officially unemployed — dropped from 12.18 percent to 12.06 percent.
Part of this drop is due to the fact that the number of people working part-time for economic reasons dropped by 235,000 in October. Where did they go? As we didn’t seen a decline in labor force participation — in fact, we saw an increase of 313,000 — Holtz-Eakin doesn’t think they dropped out of the labor force, but perhaps, reached full-time employment.
As conventional measures of market tightness have continued to improve, a question lingers: Why aren’t Americans acting like it?
The answer may lie with the type of jobs being created. As we reported in Thursday’s Making Sen$e segment, 40 percent of jobs today are contingent — in other words, without benefits, without health insurance and without a safety net. So how many of the 271,000 jobs created in October were contingent jobs?
And of course, we can’t talk about the jobs report without touching upon the Federal Reserve’s plan to raise interest rates … eventually. For months, the Fed has suggested that it would increase rates from their near-zero levels, and for months, it has decided to delay the hike due to slack in the labor market.
On Wednesday, in a hearing before the House financial services committee, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said that a December rate hike was still a “live possibility.” A number of economists, including Diane Swonk of Mesirow Financial, say that with October’s strong jobs report, a December hike in interest rates is almost certain.
— Diane Swonk (@DianeSwonk) November 6, 2015
But Holtz-Eakin, tempered by the Fed’s months of indecision, isn’t so sure. “Will they? Coin toss.”