Hold the Champagne: Jobs market isn’t better yet

Despite recent job growth, there still has not been any substantial improvement in the labor market that would lead to the Federal Reserve to taper its aggressive purchases of bonds. The job market may be getting better, but it's not nearly good enough, despite better than expected job's numbers, the unemployment rate remained the same.

By Rex Nutting
July 5, 2013, 10:21 a.m. EDT
Market Watch

employment rate

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The U.S. economy has been creating about 200,000 jobs a month, but there still has been no substantial improvement in the labor market that would lead the Federal Reserve to taper its aggressive purchases of bonds to stimulate the economy.

Markets are convinced that the Fed will begin to cut back on its $85 billion a month quantitative easing in September. And the better-than-expected jobs report on Friday has only solidified that opinion.

The Fed may very well taper in September, but it won’t, because we’re already seeing “substantial improvement” in the labor market. It’s getting better but it’s still not nearly good enough.

In any jobs report, there are always numbers and trends that would justify almost any opinion about the economy. Some things are improving, and some are standing still or getting worse. Today’s jobs report is no exception.

What’s getting better: The economy created 195,000 jobs in June, while April and May’s payroll figures were revised higher. Over the past six months, payrolls have increased by an average of 202,000 per month. That’s substantially better than the 130,000 pace the Fed was looking at in September when it implemented QE3.

The unemployment rate didn’t fall in June, but it remained at 7.6% for the best of reasons: 177,000 people joined the labor force. That’s important, because the unemployment rate has been falling because people get too discouraged to look for work. The fact that the labor force increased in June is a sign that people are more confident of landing a job. They are more willing to stick their toe in the water.

The growth in the labor force meant two other important measures of the labor market also improved. The labor-force participation rate (which measures the percentage of adults who are working or looking for work) rose by a tenth to 63.5%, and the employment-population ratio (which measures the percentage of adults who are working) rose by a tenth to 58.7%.

The growth in the labor force is good news for the Fed, but it’s too early to break out the bubbly. The employment-population ratio is no better today than it was in September 2012, when QE3 began.

Most of the job growth (and the growth in the labor force) in June came from one demographic group: Women between 20 and 24. It’s very good news that young women are finding work; young people have been very badly hurt by the sluggish recovery.

But the downside is that most other groups saw no improvement at all in June, or in recent months. The labor market for those in their prime working years of 25 to 54 didn’t get better in June, and has barely improved in the past year.

In the past 12 months, 1.6 million more Americans have jobs, but the number of working Americans between 25 and 55 has increased by just 350,000. Most of the job growth has benefited older Americans, who got 1.1 million of those jobs.

The economy is still failing to create jobs for all who want to work. There are about 18.4 million Americans who’d like to land a job (11.8 million counted as officially unemployed, plus 6.6 million who aren’t in the labor force but who want to work); last September, it was 18.8 million.

I don’t call that “substantial improvement” in the labor market. Keep the Champagne on ice

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