The May Jobs Report Stifles Optimism

By Thomas Cooley, Ben Griffy and Peter Rupert

In recent weeks there has been increasing optimism about the strengthening U.S. economy based on increases in consumption and improvements in the housing sector.  This was accompanied by increasing chatter about a possible June or mid-summer rate increase by the Fed. The latest jobs report throws cold water on that optimism. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that payroll employment increased only 38,000 in May, the smallest increase since June of 2011. Of the 38,000 increase 25,000 was in the private sector. In addition, there were downward revisions to the previous two months totalling 59,000; down 22,000 in March and 37,000 in April.

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The service sector was the driver of the increase, up 61,000, and almost all of that in health care, up 55,400. Mining employment continued its decline, down 11,000 after falling 26,000 over the previous two months.

Average weekly hours has been stuck at 34.4 for the past three months and average hourly earnings showed almost no change over the month, $25.54 in April and $25.59 in May.

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The household survey from the BLS shows a 458,000 decline in the labor force (employed plus unemployed), and the number of persons unemployed fell by 484,000, leading to an  unemployment rate decline from 4.98% to 4.69%. The employment to population ratio held steady at 59.7.

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These tepid results may be a delayed reflection of the slow growth in the first quarter and it may be the Q2 will continue to look stronger.  It does suggest that the Fed may scale back its intentions to continue to raise interest rates above the zero lower bound. In addition, slowing wage growth implies that inflation may flag as well, further depressing the nominal interest rate. There will undoubtedly be calls for more direct fiscal stimulus in the form of infrastructure investment to counter the low rate of investment and job growth. But that is unlikely to be forthcoming in an election year and given the increasing debt/gdp of the U.S..

As the rest of the world has stagnated, the United States has been the largest source of growth over the past few years. With poor employment reports over the past few months, it is unclear whether the US economy is strong enough to continue to be the global driver of growth.

 

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