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Australian labour market – deteriorates in April – employment growth zero and rising hidden unemployment

I saw an Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) economics commentator today headlining “The unemployment rate has fallen to 3.9%”. That implied something good had happened. In fact, not only did the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) say the rate was unchanged (rounded) but the participation also fell, which means the underlying unemployment situation deteriorated. Two days out from a federal election, the ABC should be doing better than that. His Tweet was pure misrepresentation. All this followed the ABS release of the latest labour force data today (May 19, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for April 2022. The labour market deteriorated somewhat in April as employment growth was virtually zero and the participation rate fell by 0.1 points. While the official unemployment rate was unchanged when rounding to one decimal place on 3.9 per cent, it would have been higher (4 per cent) had the participation rate remained constant. In other words, hidden unemployment rose by 19.9 thousand. There are still 1.389 million 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. My underlying (‘What-if’) unemployment rate is closer to 6.4 per cent rather than the official rate of 3.9 per cent. Finally, with real wages falling so sharply and employment growth virtually zero, one realises that the mainstream claim that lower real wages are good for employment is bunk!

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US labour market showing signs of faltering as real wages continue to decline

Last Friday (May 6, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – April 2022 – which reported a total payroll employment rise of only 428,000 jobs and an official unemployment rate of 3.6 per cent. However, the Labour Force survey provided the opposite impression with employment and the participation rate falling. It is difficult at this stage to reconcile the two messages except to say that the US labour market has probably reached an inflection point and a deterioration is emerging as the Federal Reserve continues to hike interest rates. The US labour market is still 1,190 thousand payroll jobs short from where it was at the end of April 2020, which helps to explain why there are no wage pressures emerging. Real wages continued to decline as the supply disruptions and the greed of increased corporate profit margin push sustain the inflationary pressures. Any analyst who is claiming the US economy is close to full employment hasn’t looked at the data.

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Deliberately creating mass unemployment now would be the work of vandals and New Keynesians

Last week, the New York Times published the latest Paul Krugman article on inflation (which is behind its paywall). It is syndicated elsewhere and you can access it here at The Berkshire Eagle (April 13, 2022) – Paul Krugman: Inflation is about to come down — but don’t get too excited. I wondered whether the author had offered his services cheaper to the NYTs and elsewhere given his concern for inflation, and, apparently, his assertion that wages are a critical factor in sustaining it. What this article highlights is mainstream New Keynesian macroeconomics – the dominant paradigm in our teaching, research and policy circles. What it also highlights is how different the mainstream is to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), despite characters like Krugman and his fellow New Keynesians trying to tell the world that there is nothing particularly different about MMT and the way they do economics. It also provides another chance for me to add nuance to the Job Guarantee.

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Australian labour market – steady in March

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest labour force data today (March 17, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for March 2022. The labour market steadied after the huge rebound last month as the Covid restrictions were substantially dismantled. Employment growth was modest. There are still 1.43 million Australian workers without work in one way or another (officially unemployed or underemployed). We are seeing the impact of flat population growth coming up against growing demand for workers and that is the reason the unemployment rate has fallen so quickly. The underlying (‘What-if’) unemployment rate is closer to 6.4 per cent rather than the official rate of 4 per cent.

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The rising incidence of Long Covid and its labour market impacts

I have written about the so-called – Great Barrington Declaration – before. The Great Barrington reference is just the name of the town where the letter was drafted and signed during a conference and bears no inference of greatness – far from it. I was also disappointed that some Left commentators fell under the spell of the anti-restriction, lockdown, vaccine lobby that the GBD represented. What transpires is that we now have an increasing body of evidence that suggests the main assumption of those behind the GBD – that herd immunity would be reached by an open slather approach to Covid (with some protections for the vulnerable) – has not been realised. Specifically, the idea of vulnerability was poorly constructed because it didn’t foresee the increasing incidence of Long Covid. The evidence now coming out by credible researchers is that we are mostly all vulnerable to long-term debilitating effects of a Covid infection and the jury is still out on how bad this will turn out to be. And, while it is clearly a medical issue, it is also causing havoc in labour markets, with increasing numbers of workers not being able to work to full potential or at all. And with the fiscal support for incomes now largely gone, that spells trouble for low-income workers. It is also a factor that will prolong the current inflationary episode.

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US employment continues to grow but still 1.6 million jobs short of pre-pandemic levels

Last Friday (April 1, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – March 2022 – which reported a total payroll employment rise of only 431,000 jobs. Fortunately, employment growth was strong enough to drive the unemployment rate down by 0.2 points to 3.6 per cent. But there is still room for the unemployment rate to fall even further. The US labour market is still 1,579 thousand jobs short from where it was at the end of March 2020, which helps to explain why there are no wage pressures emerging. Real wages continued to decline. Any analyst who is claiming the US economy is close to full employment hasn’t looked at the data.

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The chance of an unemployed Australia getting employment now is nearly at highest level since the early 1990s

I was going to comment on the Spring Statement delivered by the British Chancellor yesterday, but Spring is meant to be a happy, sunny time and the Statement missed the mark on that score. I also need to do some more calculations before I really know the full depth of despair that the British government is delivering on its people. So next week. Maybe. But in the spirit of calculation, I wanted to check how easy it is to get a job in Australia at present after hearing some character on the radio yesterday say that it has never been easier. I thought with unemployment getting lower as the external border has been largely shut for 2 years, there might be some credibility in that claim. But one has to check these things and I was interested in whether the border closures have materially altered the transitions between the labour force states. So I updated my databases and went to it. There was some jazz playing in the background to ease the strain! Result: the claim is partially true.

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Australian labour market rebounds from Omicron (perhaps) – but it is not as good as the media is claiming

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest labour force data today (March 17, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for February 2022. Last month the labour market took a dive as workers became increasingly sick from Omicron and the relaxation of the lockdowns and restrictions. This month a rebound. Next month? Floods and a new variant – stay tuned. Employment growth was very strong this month but it won’t last. Unemployment is down to the pre-GFC levels which is good as employers continue to face a restricted labour supply. When they get around to offering higher wages given their booming profits is another question. Participation is at peak levels which is good and underemployment is falling. All these are signs of an improving situation for workers but only within this weird bubble we are in – not much external migration yet and a Covid roller coaster of sickness, new variants, not to mention the floods. The flat population growth as external borders remain largely closed (or there is a slow take-up of international travel opportunities from foreign tourists) has helped keep the unemployment rate low. But it is a temporary reprieve I think. My ‘What-if’ unemployment rate of 6.4 per cent is closer to the mark of where we are at present once things normalise (whatever that means).

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UK unemployment rate is more like 5.6 per cent rather than 3.9 per cent

I have very little time today but there was one question I get asked on a regular basis that I thought I would this space to quickly answer. People wonder who the participation rate affects the official measure of unemployment. For example, the UK Office of National Statistics released data yesterday (March 15, 2022) – Labour market overview, UK: March 2022 – which showed the official unemployment rate had fallen to 3.9 per cent – a decline of 0.2 points. They said this was the result of employment rising by 275,000 in February (the employment to population ratio rose by 0.1 points). They also said that the inactivity rate for those between 16 and 64) had risen by 0.1 points to 21.3 points and was 1.1 points above the pre-pandemic level. So the question I get asked is whether things are really getting better? So here is how it works.

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US labour market improves but slack still remains with no wage pressures emerging

Last Friday (March 4, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – February 2022 – which reported a total payroll employment rise of only 678,000 jobs and a rise in the participation rate. Fortunately, employment growth was strong enough to drive the unemployment rate down by 0.2 points to 3.8 per cent. The US labour market is still 2,105 thousand jobs short from where it was at the end of February 2020, which helps to explain why there are no wage pressures emerging. Real wages continued to decline. Any analyst who is claiming the US economy is close to full employment hasn’t looked at the data.

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