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US labour market weaker in March 2018

On April 6, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – March 2018 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by just 103,000 in March – or “edged up” to use the BLS words. The Labour Force Survey data, however, showed that employment fell (37 thousand) in March 2018 but was accompanied by an even larger fall in the labour force (158 thousand) which meant that total unemployment fell by 121 thousand. The weaker labour market means that underutilisation outside of the official labour force will have risen (‘hidden unemployment’). There is still a large jobs deficit remaining and the bias towards low paid work intensified in the first three months of 2018. Finally, there is no evidence of a wages breakout going on. Taken together, the US labour market is showing no definite trend up or down at present and it is still some distance from being at full employment.

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Australian labour market – subdued and weaker in 2018

The latest labour force data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force data – for February 2018 shows that the Australian labour market labour market has weakened at the start of 2018. Employment growth was again very modest in February 2018 and participation only marginally rose. The rise in unemployment was due to employment growth failed to keep up with the underlying population growth although the slight uptick in participation exacerbated this a bit. The teenage labour market stood still although this cohort did participate in the overall full-time employment growth. Further, underemployment rose marginally as did the broad labour underutilisation rate in the three months to February 2018. Overall, my assessment is that the Australian labour market has a lot of slack remaining. It is not close to full employment yet.

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Eurozone policy failures laid bare

On March 13, 2018, the OECD released its latest Economic Outlook with accompanying “Interim projections” as at March 2018) suggesting that the current growth phase will continue through to next year as consumer and business confidence improves and translates in higher investment rates. The OECD, however, forecasts that growth in the Eurozone will decline over the next two years. The major Eurozone nations (France, Germany and Italy) are not witnessing the growing investment expenditure. The Eurozone might be seeing a little sunshine creeping out from the very dark clouds. But it is far from recovered and the future is ominously black. Key cyclical indicators remain at depressed levels, which means that when the next cycle hits, the Eurozone will be in a much worse position than before. And the reason: the fundamentally flawed design of the monetary system with its accompanying austerity bias. The reform required is root-and-branch rather than a prune here and there.

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US labour market – strengthened in February but still not at full employment

On March 9, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – February 2018 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by 313,000 in February. The Labour Force Survey data also showed a relatively strong net employment gain (785 thousand (net) jobs were created) in February 2018. The labour force was estimated to have risen by 806 thousand with participation rising by 0.3 points. The BLS thus estimated that unemployment rose by 22 thousand and the official unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.14 per cent. There is still a large jobs deficit remaining and other indicators suggest the labour market is still below where it was prior to the crisis. Finally, there is no evidence of a wages breakout going on. Taken together, while the US labour market has strengthened in the first two months of 2018, it is still some distance from being at full employment.

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Australian labour market weakened a bit at the start of 2018

The latest labour force data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force data – for January 2018 shows that the Australian labour market labour market weakened a bit at the start of 2018. Employment growth was again very modest in January 2018 and participation fell. The fall in unemployment was due to the fall in the participation rate as employment growth failed to keep up with the underlying population growth. The teenage labour market, however, improved marginally on the back of the rise in part-time work. The deficit in full employment growth for this cohort remains stark. Further, underemployment rose sharply as did the broad labour underutilisation rate for the second consecutive month, signifying that the Australian labour market still is a fair distance away form full employment. Overall, my assessment is that the Australian labour market has a lot of slack remaining. It is not close to full employment yet.

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No wages breakout in sight in US labour market

The latest news from the US, other than the regular counts of the number of times the President has lied on any particular day, is that there is a wages breakout looming. Yes, you read that correctly. The CNN report (February 2, 2018) – America gets a raise: Wage growth fastest since 2009 – was representative of the media responses to the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on the same day. We read that “Economists say its time to take note of how strong , or ‘tight’ the U.S. job market is”. One bank economist quoted claimed that “It’s too early to call this a trend but the breakout [in wage growth] is very welcome news”. Is that fake news? I am an economists and I don’t see any wages breakout or anything remotely like it. On February 2, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – January 2018 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by 200,000 in January. The Labour Force Survey data also showed a relatively strong net employment gain (409 thousand (net) jobs were created) in January 2018. The labour force was estimated to have risen by 518 thousand with participation constant. The BLS thus estimated that unemployment rose by 108 thousand and the official unemployment rate rose slightly from 4.09 to 4.15 per cent. There is still a large jobs deficit remaining and other indicators suggest the labour market is still below where it was prior to the crisis. But as I show below there is no wages breakout going on despite claims to the contrary.

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Older workers in the US dominate employment growth – troubles ahead

The Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis published a very interesting article earlier this month (January 15, 2018) – Older Workers Account for All Net Job Growth Since 2000 – which was written by William Emmons, the Lead Economist with the Bank’s Center for Household Financial Stability. The Center focuses on the “balance sheets of struggling American families” and was launched in May 2013 in response to the GFC. It seeks to investigate factors that impact on the fragility of household finances. The research paper finds that since 2000, workers older than 55 have captured almost all the net employment growth leaving the prime-age workers (more than a million) languishing. This abnormal pattern is not predicted to continue for much longer but that is disputable. Further, even if the domination of older workers ends within the decade, the lack of opportunities that are apparent for those who are moving through the prime-age years now spells a looming disaster in a decade or more in the form of increased poverty rates and disadvantage. Then you will hear the screams that the US government cannot afford the income support that will be needed. But at the same time, without that income support the situation will get worse. Something needs to be done now to interrupt this trend.

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Australian labour market – steady to finish a relatively good year

The latest labour force data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force data – for December 2017 shows that the Australian labour market was relatively steady in December 2017, with both relatively strong employment growth and a rising participation rate. Unemployment rose due to the sharp rise in the participation rate following on the stronger employment growth. The teenage labour market however did not enjoy the benefits of this growth and went backwards. Further, underemployment rose sharply as did the broad labour underutilisation rate signifying that the Australian labour market still is a fair distance away form full employment. Overall, my assessment remains – the labour market has improved over 2017 but still fluctuates between good and bad from month to month and has a lot of slack remaining. We are not yet in a position to say that there is a sustained growth path ahead.

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US labour market reality debunks mainstream view about structural impediments

An enduring myth among mainstream economists is that so-called ‘structural’ impediments in the labour market prevent aggregate spending initiatives from government being an effective solution to mass unemployment. According to this view, if the government attempts to reduce the unemployment rate below some ‘natural rate’ then accelerating inflation will be the only outcome. The ‘natural rate’ can, in turn, only be reduced by structural policies – attacks on trade unions, welfare state retrenchment, cutting the minimum wage, and the rest of the litany of neoliberal policies. And, in this view, the unemployed are to blame for their own state – a lack of effort on their part to adequately present themselves to the labour market. The prior view that mass unemployment is a systemic failure to create enough jobs is rejected. A piece of this fiction is that one of long-term unemployed (and other disadvantaged workers) are not capable of being absorbed into employment without extensive re-training and other personal rehabilitation and this also prevents the unemployment rate from falling quickly. The problem with all of these related propositions is that reality interferes and generates outcomes that contradict the assertions. It is quite obvious that if the economy is run at high pressure then firms are forced to scrap prejudice for disadvantaged groups and offer on-the-job training to them to ensure they can maintain market share. In other words, the long-term unemployed do not present an impediment to growth. Events in the US labour market at present are demonstrating this reality.

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US labour market steady but some distance from full employment

On January 5, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – December 2017 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by 148,000 in December, well down on the 228,000 rise in November. While the payroll data showed a fairly strong employment outcome, the Labour Force Survey data estimated a that 104 thousand (net) jobs were created in November, up from the weaker rise in employment (57 thousand) in November. The labour force was estimated to have risen by 64 thousand with participation constant. The BLS thus estimated that unemployment fell by 40 thousand and the official unemployment rate fell slightly from 4.12 to 4.09 per cent. There is still a large jobs deficit remaining and other indicators suggest the labour market is still below where it was prior to the crisis.

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