US Labour Market – not yet at full employment despite low unemployment

On January 10, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – January 2019 – which reveals a labour market that that is still adding jobs, albeit at a slower rate than it was last year. The December performance showed that this moderation has not yet impacted on the unemployment rate – meaning that the employment growth is keeping pace with the underlying population growth with participation steady as indicated by the steady employment-population ratio. The Broad labour underutilisation ratio (U-6) remains high (but fell in December by 0.2 points) and the official unemployment is now hovering around levels not seen since the late 1960s. The U-6 indicator fell because underemployed workers are finding low-wage jobs in the service sector. Wages growth fell below the 3 per cent level for the first time since mid-2018 and real wages growth failed to match annual productivity growth. The worry is that the jobs being added represent a significant hollowing out of jobs in the median wage area (the so-called ‘middle-class’ jobs), which is reinforcing the polarisation in the income distribution and rising inequality. There is no hint, yet in the data, that a recession is coming any time soon or that that US labour market is at full employment despite the low unemployment rate.

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