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US labour market improvement continues but there is still a long way to go

On September 4, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – August 2020 – which shows that while employment continued to grow, the rebound has moderated. All the major aggregates are heading in the right direction. Employment is up, participation is up, the labour force is recovering and the unemployment rate and broader measures of labour underutilisation are falling. The problem facing the US is that the lack of economic support from the Federal government means that the huge pool of unemployment will take years to reduce and the damage will accumulate. How far the recovery can go depends on two factors, both of which are biased negatively: (a) How many firms have gone broke in the lockdown? (b) Whether the US states will have to reverse their lockdown easing in the face of a rapid escalation of the virus in some of the more populace states. I do not see appropriate policy responses in place at present. From abroad, it looks like the US government is stepping back when it should be engaging in supporting all incomes and introducing large-scale job creation programs.

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US labour market rebound moderating – policy support is lacking

On August 7, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – July 2020 – which shows that while employment continued to grow, the rebound has moderated. The problem facing the US is that the lack of economic support from the Federal government means that the huge pool of unemployment will take years to reduce and the damage will accumulate. How far the recovery can go depends on two factors, both of which are biased negatively: (a) How many firms have gone broke in the lockdown? (b) Whether the US states will have to reverse their lockdown easing in the face of a rapid escalation of the virus in some of the more populace states. But I do not see appropriate policy responses in place at present. From abroad, it looks like the US government is stepping back when it should be engaging in supporting all incomes and introducing large-scale job creation programs.

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Latest data – largest quarterly output decline in recorded US history – but Europe is worse

The US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released the – Gross Domestic Product, Second Quarter 2020 (Advance Estimate) – data last week (July 30, 2020). It shows that the US economy has declined by 9.49 per cent between the March- and June-quarters. On an annual basis the decline was 9.54 per cent. This is the largest quarterly contraction in recorded history. Consumption expenditure declined by 10.1 per cent in real terms and business investment by 17.4 per cent. The collapse in consumer expenditure was mostly concentrated in services (-22.6%), which reflected lockdowns and the unwillingness of consumers to continue normal practices. Personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income jumped dramatically from 9.5 per cent in the March-quarter to 25.7 percent in the second quarter. That is a testament to the endemic uncertainty that the pandemic has created. The contribution of net exports actually rose, not because exports rose (their individual contribution was -9.38 points), but because of the slump in imports – a smaller leakage from the expenditure system (adding 10.1 points t growth!). Overall, there is no trend – just a massive mess. How the second wave of the virus impacts is anybody’s guess but lots more deaths and more disruption is certain.

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US labour market reverses direction but for how long?

On July 2, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – June 2020 – which shows that the US labour market response to the relaxation of lockdown controls gained pace in due, although the question that remains is how long can the governors of the states allow the relaxation to continue given the alarming spread of disease. Already, nations such as Spain are returning to lockdown as their hospital systems become overwhelmed by the ‘second wave’ following easing. And US states such as Texas, Arizona and Florida are approaching the time when they will have to return to some form of lockdown given the health crisis that premature easing has created. The problem is that the lack of economic support from the Federal government makes those decisions difficult to take and extremely damaging for the unemployed. It is almost unbelievable that the Republican politicians are endorsing cutting unemployment support. But, in June, as the economy reopened, the payroll numbers improved as you would expect with a 4.8 million increase in jobs net) and the official unemployment rate rate falling to 11.1 per cent. The numbers filing for unemployment insurance are now falling but now top 49.2 million since March 7, 2020. A further 1.4 million filed in the week ending June 27, 2020. How far the recovery can go depends on two factors, both of which are biased negatively: (a) How many firms have gone broke in the lockdown? (b) Whether the US states will have to reverse their lockdown easing in the face of a rapid escalation of the virus in some of the more populace states. But I do not see appropriate policy responses in place. The US government should have guaranteed all incomes and introduced large-scale job creation programs and a Job Guarantee as an on-going safety net.

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Apparently the government has no money but then has plenty

Things are obviously getting desperate out there in financial media commentary land. If one could express written text in graphical terms then there are a number of financial journalists out there that look – like a rabbit caught in the headlights – that is in a state “of paralyzing surprise, fear, or bewilderment.” A good example of this increasingly observed syndrome is an article in The Australian newspaper today (June 30, 2020) by Adam Creighton – Never forget that governments have no money – it is always ours (subscription required). This sort of journalism is becoming an almost daily occurrence as it becomes obvious that capitalism is now on state life support systems and the extremities of government intervention are demonstrating very clearly what Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists have been saying – and the only ones that have been saying it – for 25 years or so. I often note that Japan has already pushed the fiscal and monetary policy parameters beyond the limits most countries have explored in peacetime and mainstream economists have systematically predicted various scales of disaster and have always been wrong. Now all countries are at extremes and still no fiscal disaster. But the mainstream mouthpieces – these financial journalists who seem to think the stuff they read in first-year text books from mainstream economics programs are in same way the basis for expertise and knowledge – are in advanced states of dissonance. Drivel follows.

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US Labour Market – cheering but it is too early to break out the champagne

On June 5, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – May 2020 – which shows that the US labour market has responded to the relaxation of lockdown controls in a modest way. I cannot believe that in Donald Trump’s words the US is “largely through” the Pandemic and it remains to be seen whether lockdown rules will have to be reintroduced when the infections rise again. But, for the time being, the payroll numbers improved as you would expect when shops reopened and people went back to work. But I stress this was a modest improvement. The numbers filing for unemployment insurance continue to rise and now top 43.2 million since March 7, 2020. A further 1.9 million filed in the week ending May 30, 2020. There were also some discrepancies noted by the BLS in the survey responses this month which adds to the uncertainty. Overall, the US labour market is in crisis and it remains to be seen how many jobs have disappeared and how many will emerge once the lockdowns are ended. Some 2.6 points of ‘unemployment’ lie outside the labour force (workers giving up looking), and as employment growth increases, those workers will come back into the recorded labour force and be classified as unemployed rather than not in the labour force. So how deep this catastrophe is remains a but uncertain. But I do not see appropriate policy responses in place. The US government should have guaranteed all incomes and introduced large-scale job creation programs and a Job Guarantee as an on-going safety net.

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US labour market in peril as a result of political choices made by the US government

I went on a data excursion for part of today to update the flows data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. They published the latest JOLTs data last Friday (May 15, 2020) – Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary – which reveals data up to March 2020. So in a sense it is the calm before the storm. I also reconstructed some of the indicators I compile from that data set which give me a broader impression of what is happening in the US labour market. Clearly, things are going to get worse when the April data is released. We can see that by examining the Department of Labor’s weekly unemployment claimants data, which was updated last Thursday (May 9, 2020). I also updated my state table and map today. Things are looking very bleak. To me, the data tells me that the US is a failed state – incapable of using the capacity the government possesses to advance the well-being, or, in this case, protect the well-being of its people. I am also working on an extended piece on the way the Right and the Left are behaving in this crisis. As usual, the Right are organised and forward-looking putting assets into strategies that will take their agenda to another (pernicious) level. Under the smokescreen of the crisis, they are working to cement changes that will make it even harder for government to advance general prosperity. Meanwhile, the Left appear to be asleep as usual – tweeting their heads off about Biden or Sanders and have taken their eyes off the main game. We have been there before. Even though the US labour market has probably never been here before!

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US labour market data – we have never been here before!

Last month’s analysis of the US labour force data – Tip of the iceberg – the US labour market catastrophe now playing out (April 6, 2020) – presaged what was to come. We now know more about the size of the iceberg. It is unimaginably large. Words fail really. This is one of those all-time historical events that make the severe crises of the past (early 1980s, 1990s, GFC – look like blips). On May 8, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – April 2020 – which shows that the US labour market has collapsed into territory never before recorded. And, given that the data released was drawn from samples that went up to April 12 (establishment survey) and April 18 (household survey), and so doesn’t fully capture the extent of the unfolding catastrophe. More recent data released by the US Department of Labor (unemployment insurance claimant data) shows the situation worsened in the last two weeks of April. In the last two weeks of April 2020, more than 9 million extra workers registered unemployment insurance claims. All the aggregates are demonstrating dramatic shifts to the point that graphs are becoming rather binary – the rest of history and now. The employment-population rate plunged 8.7 points to 51.3 per cent, which is the largest monthly fall since the sample began in January 1948. The U6 measure of broad labour underutilisation increased by 14 points to 22.8 per cent. This is the largest monthly rise in this measure since it was first published in January 1994. The situation will get worse. Its already catastrophic and it demonstrates a massive policy failure from the Federal government. Instead of directing trillions into the top-end-of-town, the US government should have guaranteed all incomes and introduced large-scale job creation programs and a Job Guarantee as an on-going safety net. Instead it is watching over people dying and people’s material prosperity being destroyed.

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JobKeeper wage subsidy – some strange arithmetic is afoot

It is Wednesday so music and some snippets. I have updated the US unemployment claims data with a new map and state table. Shocking. We are working on updated estimates of what the Australian government would need to invest to run a Job Guarantee. We haven’t done that for a while because I didn’t want the press to get obsessed with dollar amounts. But as I am currently talking a lot about the Job Guarantee in the media, I thought some numbers would be useful as a comparative exercise against the JobKeeper wage subsidy, which is the central stimulus plank of the Australian government. The current estimates suggest that to create around 685 thousand jobs might require an outlay of $34 billion over the course of a year. That got me thinking. The main response of the Australian government is the $A133 billion over 6 months JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. The Treasury claims it will be the difference between an unemployment rate of 10 per cent and 15 per cent. That difference is 685 thousand jobs. Then start doing some division and multiplication and you start to see that this doesn’t make sense as I explain below.

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Policy failure – Australian unemployment rate probably already around 10.9 per cent

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has started publishing weekly employment data – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 4 April 2020 – which is drawn from a new series made available as a result of the Single Touch Payroll data provided by the Australian Tax Office. For the first time, researchers like me can have up to date information as the economy cycles. Usually we get the labour force data some 5-6 weeks behind time and although a lot doesn’t necessarily happen in a month, this crisis is the exception – the whole box-and-dice is collapsing so quickly that we need weekly data, like is provided in the US through the Department of Employment’s unemployment claimants data to stay in touch with how things are tracking. But for now I estimate that the unemployment rate rose to around 10.9 per cent in the 3 weeks to April 4, 2020 (up from 5.2 per cent for the March data – which was surveyed in the early part of the month). In that time, unemployment has more than doubled and is around 1.5 million and rising. The conclusion from my analysis of the latest available data (released April 21, 2020) – is that some sectors in the Australian labour market have experienced a sudden and catastrophic contraction – like nothing we have ever seen in the data. Both employment losses and major wage cuts are underway and the policy response is totally inadequate for the task. A much larger fiscal intervention is required and it has to be directed at workers rather than firms. I will say more about those issues next week. But I am guessing that the Government’s response so far is less than half of what it should have been – it needs at least another $A200 billion.

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