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US labour market weaker than it was at the end of 2018

Last week’s (March 8, 2019) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – February 2019 – is a little hard to believe and shows the sampling variability involved in survey work. In January, the BLS estimates that total non-farm payroll employment rose by 311,000 (revised up from 304,000). This month the estimate was only 20,000. So either the US economy is crashing (given employment is a lagging indicator) or some one-off factors (bad weather, shutdown, you name it) were present or the results are too variable to be believed. The most likely explanation is that employment growth is fading and the strength in the US labour market coming into 2019 is gone. Taking the Household Survey results, we saw employment rise by 255 thousand and the official unemployment rate fell by 0.2 points to 3.8 per cent on the back of a steady participation rate. Even with all this volatility in the estimates, the best guess is that the US labour market has probably weakened somewhat from where it was at the end of 2018. It is also clear that there is still a substantial jobs deficit remaining and considerable scope for increased participation.

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