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US labour market remains fairly robust

Last week’s (January 4, 2019) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – December 2018 – showed that total non-farm payroll employment rose by 312,000 and the unemployment rate rose by 0.2 points to 3.9 per cent on the back of a 0.2 points rise in the participation rate. The coincidence of rising employment and rising participation is usually a good sign as workers are being attracted back into the labour force by the increased job opportunities. We will see in the next few months whether that is a one-off blip or a sustained trend. If it is a sustained trend then the rise in unemployment as a consequence of the labour force growth outstripping employment growth will be temporary and sustained reductions in unemployment will then occur. While the US labour market is looking fairly robust there is still a substantial jobs deficit remaining which tells us that it remains some distance from full employment. There is room for expansion.

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Australian labour market – weak with broad underutilisation rising

Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest data – Labour Force, Australia, November 2018 – which shows that the employment growth was all due to part-time jobs growth (probably related to the Xmas season) and both full-time employment and hours worked were negative. Not a good sign. The moderate employment growth, however, trailed behind the growth in the labour force and unemployment rose a bit. The broad measure of labour underutilisation rose by 0.3 points to 13.6 per cent with underemployment rising by 0.2 points. Again, a sign of a weak labour market that is relying on part-time jobs for growth. The Australian labour market remains a considerable distance from full employment. There is clear room for some serious policy expansion at present.

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US labour market moderated in November and considerable slack remains

Last week’s (December 7, 2018) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2018 – showed that total non-farm payroll employment rose by 155,000 and the unemployment rate was essentially unchanged at 3.7 per cent. Participation was steady. While the US labour market is reaching unemployment rates not seen since the late 1960s, the participation rate is still well below the pre-GFC levels and a substantial jobs deficit remains. Other indicators suggest there is still considerable slack in the labour market, especially outside the labour force (marginal workers) and among the underemployed. Taken together, the US labour market moderated in November but remains some distance from full employment.

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Australian labour market – treading water this month

Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest data – Labour Force, Australia, October 2018 – which show that the Australian labour market really was treading water despite the improvement in employment growth, from last month’s outcome where Australia endured zero growth. The moderate employment growth, however, trailed behind the growth in the labour force and unemployment rose a bit. Monthly hours worked remained on a flat trend. The labour market remains in a fairly weak state – the growth in employment is not sufficient to match the growth in labour supply and the broader measures of labour underutilisation remain at persistently elevated levels. The Australian labour market remains a considerable distance from full employment. There is clear room for some serious policy expansion at present.

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US labour market continues to improve but questions remain

Today is the mid-term elections in the US and it seems that the media is focused on how many seats the Democrats will win. As a progressive this doesn’t particularly interest me much given that the claims the Democrats have been making in the last few months about fiscal policy. Trump is out there demonstrating what expansionary fiscal policy can do when there is idle capacity. And last week’s (November 2, 2018) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – October 2018 – showed the employment impacts of that fiscal approach. Total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by a very strong 250,000 and the unemployment rate was steady at 3.5 per cent. Inflation remains subdued. The strong employment growth has also stimulated participation, which meant that the growth in the labour force has outstripped the strong employment growth and unemployment rose slightly in October. But that is the sort of dynamic that a high pressure economy exhibits and eventually the cyclical participation effects exhaust and the strong employment growth starts mopping up the last of the cyclical unemployment and underemployment. There is still some way to go for that to be the case. While the US labour market is reaching unemployment rates not seen since the late 1960s, the participation rate is still well below the pre-GFC levels and a substantial jobs deficit remains. There has also been a hollowing out of the occupational employment structure around the median pay occupations which confirms the bias towards low-pay jobs in the recovery. The employment-population ratio rose by 0.2 points in October. Taken together, the US labour market continued to improve in October but remains some distance from full employment.

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Australian labour market weaker – no employment growth and participation down

Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest data – Labour Force, Australia, September 2018 – which show that the Australian labour market has weakened, with employment growth virtually zero. Compounding that weakness was a sharp decline in the participation rate (0.3 points). Taken together, unemployment and the unemployment rate fell but this is a sign of weakness not improvement. The decline in unemployment is because workers gave up looking for jobs in a weak labour market. Monthly hours worked remained on a flat trend. Overall, my assessment is that the Australian labour market remains in a fairly weak state and, is still a considerable distance from full employment. There is clear room for some serious policy expansion at present.

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US labour market improves but GFC residue remains

On October 5, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – September 2018 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by only 134,000. The labour force survey measures show that employment growth outstripped the growth in the labour force, which resulted in the unemployment rate declining by 0.2 points to 3.69 per cent. The US labour market is reaching unemployment rates not seen since the late 1960s, although the participation rate is well below the pre-GFC levels and a substantial jobs deficit remains. The employment-population ratio rose by 0.1 points in September. Taken together, the US labour market continued to improve in September but remains some distance from full employment.

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‘Progressive’ groups in Australia captured by neoliberal ideology

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), which represents income support recipients, in conjunction with Jobs Australia (a peak body for the not-for-profit job services providers) released a report last week (September 14, 2018) – Faces of Unemployment – which was a welcome return to a focus on joblessness and the need to provide more jobs, rather than the lame faux-progressive retreat to UBI advocacy that has dominated the policy debate for the last few years. However, once you start reading the analysis you realise that these supposedly ‘progressive’ organisations offer the same old neoliberal remedies to solving poverty and unemployment. They want: Compulsory, assisted job search, which is just coercion of jobless workers by Australia’s privatised job services industry that has an appalling record; 2. Wage subsidies in the private sector and Public sector wage subsidies – which never produce effective sustainable outcomes of sufficient magnitude to be called a solution; and vocational training, which is the same old ‘put workers on the training treadmill and shuffle the jobless queue’. This reinforces the theme I focus on a lot that the progressive elements in our society have become captured by the neoliberal mainstream and cannot think outside that frame. There is actually no mention or analysis of public sector job creation programs in the entire ACOSS/JA Report. Sadly, groups like ACOSS have a major public voice and the Federal government sees their advocacy as non-threatening because the type of policies they advocate are mainstream neoliberal and just more of what the Government, itself, thinks are viable. The irony (or disgrace) is that if these policies were effective then the ACOSS/JA Report would not have had to be written. Just imagine what they could have written about the “Faces of Unemployment” if a Job Guarantee program effectively wiped unemployment out. It would become a very short story of workers moving between jobs.

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Australian labour market – employment growth improves but uncertainty remains

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia, August 2018 – today which show that the Australian labour market showed better signs in August 2018 than in July but there are questions about the sensitivity of the results to the sample rotation used by the ABS to construct its survey. I expect the results to be revised downwards next month. With that said, employment growth was solid (dominated by full-time growth) and the participation rate rose. Taken together, unemployment rose slightly and the unemployment rate was steady. Monthly hours worked however hardly moved which is further reason to doubt the employment estimates. Overall, my assessment is that the Australian labour market remains in an uncertain state and, is still a considerable distance from full employment. There is clear room for some serious policy expansion at present.

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British labour market – low unemployment hiding a deeper malaise

The British Office of National Statistics (ONS) published its latest labour market data last week (August 14, 2018) – Labour market economic commentary: August 2018. The results are illuminating because they demonstrate how we must use broad concepts to appraise labour market health rather than just focusing on the official unemployment rate. A marked characteristic of the British labour market has been the near zero rate of growth in wages (and falling real wages) for some years, despite the claims that employment has reached record levels and the unemployment rate is now at levels unseen since the early 1970s. The research question is to dig deeper into the data to see what might be driving these relationships. The conclusion I reach is that the quality of employment has fallen somewhat over the last decade or so and the capacity of workers to successfully achieve wage settlements has fallen significantly as trade union membership has gone south. I am doing more formal research on this question to narrow down all the determinants and will report when I have more to say.

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