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The pandemic has caused fundamental shifts in worker behaviour

Jeff Beck has died! A masterful musician. Very sad. We move on. I read an interesting research paper recently – “The Great Retirement Boom”: The Pandemic-Era Surge in Retirements and Implications for Future Labor Force Participation – published in the US Federal Reserve Bank’s Finance and Economics Discussion Series (released November 2022), which illustrates how the pandemic is altering the behaviour of the US labour market. The lessons from the US are relevant everywhere as governments progressively ignore the reality that a dangerous virus is still in our midst and still causing havoc (deaths, long-term disability and more). For those who are continuing to claim the pandemic is some sort of conspiracy to control us or that Covid is less dangerous than influenza or that mask wearing is redundant and all the rest of the nonsense that seems to perpetrated by some on the Left who think they are for ‘freedom’ and those on the Right who just care about profits, this sort of research should presents a serious wake up call.

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US labour market continues to grow as more working age people find jobs

Well, happy 2023 to all my readers. We are back for another year – the 19th in this blog’s existence. All the observers have been waiting for a sign that the US interest rate hikes are slowing the US economy down, which is the mainstream logic that has been used to justify the regressive policy shift. The data, so far, suggests that the inflationary pressures are subsiding as a consequence of the factors other than the interest rate changes which seem to have done little other than redistribute income to the rich away from the poor. The latest labour market data release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics supports that view. Last Friday (January 6, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – December 2022 – which revealed on-going employment growth, rising participation and falling unemployment. These are good signs for American workers. Further, as inflation is subsiding the modest nominal wages growth is now providing real wages growth – another virtuous sign. The latest data is certainly not consistent with the Federal Reserve type narratives. But who should be surprised by that.

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Older workers in Australia taking on more work, while in Britain they are bailing out

It’s Wednesday and a few items caught my interest in the last few days. I have been besieged with requests to comment on the Bank of Japan’s announcement yesterday to widen the range in which it conducts yield curve control for the 10-year Japanese government bond yield. Some of the besiegement (which means in English – aggressive pressure or intimidation) claims that the decision shows the private bond investors have finally won and is the last nail in the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) coffin. If the senders were comics, they would be very funny. Otherwise, it signals a sad reluctance to face reality. It is called yield curve CONTROL for a reason. Anyway, I will analyse the decision for my readership tomorrow I think. Today, though, I saw two pieces of data that demonstrate the impacts of Covid and inflation on two different labour markets. In Australia, they are now calling it the ‘great unretirement’ as older workers flood into the labour market in recent years – allegedly, so the spin goes because of by “more favourable workplace conditions”. I think there is more to it than that. Over the other side of the World in freezing cold Britain, it appears that the impacts of Covid (“rising sickness”) have, in part, been responsible for an “exodus of more than half a million people from the British workforce”, which means the growth capacity is now more limited. These are interesting trends that need thinking about.

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Australian labour force – stronger employment growth defying RBA interest rate hikes

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released of the latest labour force data today (December 15, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for November 2022. The labour market continued to improve in November 2022 with employment rising relatively strongly by 64,000 (0.5 per cent) on the back of strong full-time and part-time employment growth. The participation rate also rose by 0.2 points, which meant the change in the labour force was larger than the change in employment, and as a consequence, official unemployment rose. There is some evidence that more people are taking on extra work to cope with the cost-of-living pressures. While all this suggests a fairly tight labour market, the underlying (‘What-if’) unemployment rate is closer to 5.1 per cent rather than the official rate of 3.4 per cent. There are still 1,325.5 thousand Australian workers without work in one way or another (officially unemployed or underemployed). The only reason the unemployment rate is so low is because the underlying population growth remains low after the border closures over the last two years. But that is changing as immigration increases.

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US labour market is a sort of holding pattern – declining but slowly

Last Friday (December 2, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2022 – which suggested that the US labour market showed signs of slowing further, with payroll employment growing by just 263,000 net jobs. The labour force measure showed employment and labour force growth turning negative as the participation edged down. The result was that the official unemployment rate remained largely unchanged – with both the demand and supply side falling in proportion. The quit rate is stable which suggests that the US labour market is in a sort of holding pattern – slowing weakening but not consistent with the Federal Reserve type narratives. There are also no fundamental wage pressures emerging at present to drive any further inflation spikes. Wages growth appears to be reactive to inflation rather than propelling it. Wages growth appears to be reactive to inflation rather than propelling it. The claim that wage pressures are now pushing inflation is untenable given the data.

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Australian labour market – shows moderate improvement

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released of the latest labour force data today (November 17, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for October 2022. The labour market improveds somewhat in October 2022 with employment rising by 32,200 (0.2 per cent) on the back of strong full-time employment growth. With the sluggish labour force growth (as a result of below-average growth in the working age population) and an unchanged participation rate, the jobs growth saw unemployment and the official unemployment rate both decline. The full-time jobs growth also reduced underemployment. However, the underlying (‘What-if’) unemployment rate is closer to 6.1 per cent rather than the official rate of 3.4 per cent. There are still 1313.8 thousand Australian workers without work in one way or another (officially unemployed or underemployed). The only reason the unemployment rate is so low is because the underlying population growth remains low after the border closures over the last two years. But that is changing as immigration increases.

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If its bad it must be because of Brexit or MMT or both depending

There is no doubt that the on-going pandemic has left a trail of economic problems including major supply constraints, the growing problem of long Covid and other issues that are challenging policy makers. They have been exacerbated by the behaviour of OPEC+ and the Ukraine situation. We now have a period of inflation, real wage cuts and most central banks doing their best to make matters worse. However, we now have a phenomenon that goes like this. In the UK, everything ‘bad’ that arises is apparently because of Brexit even if the trends were there before the move or the problems are being shared across all countries. I imagine even if the English cricket team loses it is because of Brexit. This phenomenon has generalised however. Now, we have the claim that all bad economic news is because governments ‘followed’ MMT or something akin to it. Those who are insecure about MMT because it does better at explaining the real world than the mainstream theories are the same as the Remainers who predicted that the British economy would crash badly in 2017 and then every year after that. To soothe their worried souls they consider any ‘bad’ news to be because of ‘MMT’ or in the case of Britain because of Brexit. Neither proposition has any foundation.

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US labour market – shows further signs of slowing

Last Friday (November 4, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2022 – which suggested that the US labour market showed signs of slowing further, with payroll employment growing by just 261,000 net jobs. The labour force measure showed employment and labour force growth turning negative as the participation edged down. The result was that the official unemployment rate rose by 0.1 points to 3.7 per cent. There are also no fundamental wage pressures emerging at present to drive any further inflation spikes. Wages growth appears to be reactive to inflation rather than propelling it. Wages growth appears to be reactive to inflation rather than propelling it. The claim that wage pressures are now pushing inflation is untenable given the data.

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Degrowth, deep adaptation, and skills shortages – Part 4

One of the ‘problems’ besetting the world at present, if the commentary in the mainstream press is anything to go by, is the existence of chronic skill shortages. Survey studies of the shifting demographics in Japan, for example, have produced ‘alarming’ results from a mainstream perspective. See for example, this OECD Report from 2021 – Changing skill needs in the Japanese labour market. I was at a meeting recently in Kyoto and it is clear that many firms in Japan are having trouble finding workers and many have even offered wage increases to lure workers to their companies. Further, many small and medium-size businesses are owned by persons who are over 70 years of age and that proportion is rising fast. The skill shortage scenario is tied in with the ageing society debate, where advanced nations are facing so-called demographic ‘time bombs’, with fewer people of working age left to produce for an increasing number of people who no longer work. The mainstream narrative paints these trends as major problems that have to be confronted by governments, and, typically, because of faulty understandings of the fiscal capacities of governments, propose deeply flawed solutions. I see these challenges in a very different light. Rather than construct the difficulties that firms might be facing attracting sufficient labour (the ‘skills shortages’ narrative), I prefer to see the situation as providing an indicator of the limits of economic activity or the space that nations have to implement a fairly immediate degrowth strategy. In the following two blog posts I will explain how this inversion of logic can become a crucial plank in the degrowth debate.

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Australian labour market – slowing to a halt

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released of the latest labour force data today (October 20, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for September 2022. The labour market slowed markedly in September 2022 with employment hardly increasing (0.01 per cent) and unemployment pushing up a little due to the labour force growing more than employment. With the participation rate constant, this signals a deteriorating situation. The underlying (‘What-if’) unemployment rate is closer to 6.1 per cent rather than the official rate of 3.5 per cent. There are still 1346.8 thousand Australian workers without work in one way or another (officially unemployed or underemployed). The only reason the unemployment rate is so low is because the underlying population growth remains low after the border closures over the last two years. But that is changing as immigration increases. Overall, the situation deteriorated a bit over September.

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