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March 8, 2014

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Posted: 08 Mar 2014 12:06 AM PST

Fed Watch: Upward Grind in Labor Markets Continues

Posted: 07 Mar 2014 10:43 AM PST

Tim Duy:

Upward Grind in Labor Markets Continues, by Tim Duy: The employment report for February modestly beat expectations with a nonfarm payroll gain of 175k, leaving the recent trends pretty much intact:

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Did the labor market shake off the impact of a cold and snowy winter? No. Aggregate hours worked turned over during the winter, sending the year-over-year gains southward as well:

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Looks like the weather was less about hiring, and more about people not being able to get to their jobs.
The unemployment rate edged up:

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I suspect we are seeing something like we saw in late 2011 when the unemployment rate fell sharply and then moved sideways for a few months. If there is less excess slack in the labor market than Fed doves believe we should soon be seeing greater upward pressures on wages. Hints of this emerge in the acceleration of wage gains for production and nonsupervisory workers:

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Note that this comes even as the number of long-term unemployed rose. I think there is a very real possibility - as was suspected long ago would happen - that persistently high cyclical unemployment we saw during the recession and its aftermath has evolved into structural unemployment. Former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke in 2012:
I also discussed long-term unemployment today, arguing that cyclical rather than structural factors are likely the primary source of its substantial increase during the recession. If this assessment is correct, then accommodative policies to support the economic recovery will help address this problem as well. We must watch long-term unemployment especially carefully, however. Even if the primary cause of high long-term unemployment is insufficient aggregate demand, if progress in reducing unemployment is too slow, the long-term unemployed will see their skills and labor force attachment atrophy further, possibly converting a cyclical problem into a structural one.
More structural unemployment combined with evidence that the fall in labor force participation is increasingly attributable to retirement suggests less labor market slack. Fed officials will be watching this issue very closely. It is the most likely reason we would expect to see the expected date of the first rate hike moved forward in 2015. (For more on the structural/cyclical issue, I recommend Cardiff Garcia here).
We will see commentators ignore the production and nonsupervisory series in favor of the all employees series. The latter has yet to turn upward as aggressively as the former. The all employees series, however, has a much shorter history. Federal Reserve policymakers will be more comfortable with the longer and familiar production and nonsupervisory workers series. Moreover, I doubt they believe we should expect meaningful and persistent deviations between the two series over time. After all, if the wages of your lowest paid employees are rising, it is reasonable to believe that it is only a matter of time before that same trend hits your better paid employees.
Bottom Line: The employment report indicates ongoing slow and steady improvement in the economy sufficient to generate consistent job growth and drive the unemployment rate lower. The report has no implications for tapering because tapering is on a preset course (New York Fed President William Dudley confirmed what was long suspected yesterday). This one report by itself also says little about the first rate increase - still mid to late 2015. But watch the wage growth numbers and listen to the reaction of Fed officials. In my opinion, this is a key factor in the timing of rate policy. Traditionally, the start tightening prior or near to an acceleration in wages. The longer they stay still as unemployment falls and wage growth rises, the more nervous they will become that they are falling behind the curve. And they especially don't want to fall behind the curve given the size of their balance sheet. They talk a good game, but I think they are more worried about unwinding that balance sheet then they claim in public.

'Economy Adds 175,000 Jobs in February, Despite Bad Weather'

Posted: 07 Mar 2014 08:08 AM PST

Dean Baker on the jobs report for February:

Economy Adds 175,000 Jobs in February, Despite Bad Weather: Unemployment in construction is lower than in the pre-boom years.
The establishment survey showed the economy added 175,000 jobs in February, in spite of the unusually harsh weather on much of the country. With modest upward revisions to the prior two months' data, this brings the 3-month average to 129,000. While this is considerably weaker than the fall months, weather has undoubtedly played a role in slowing job creation. (In contrast to the prior two months, February's weather was unusually harsh.)
The mix of jobs in February was somewhat peculiar with the professional and business services category accounting for more than half of the total (79,000 jobs). This was driven in part by an unusual jump in accounting bookkeeping services of 15,700 jobs, which partially offset a decline of 30,800 reported in December. While the more skilled portion of this sector (computer and management services) has been showing healthy growth, growth in the less skilled portion has been especially strong. Temp agencies added 24,400 jobs in February and 227,700 over the last year. Services to buildings (e.g. custodians) added 11,400 jobs last month and 66,700 (3.6 percent) over the last year.

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Manufacturing employment has slowed to a crawl. The sector added 6,000 jobs, with downward revisions bringing the three month average to just 6,300. There were downward revisions to retail with a loss of 4,100 jobs following a loss of 22,600 in January. In addition to the weather, this likely reflects changed seasonal hiring patterns.
Health care employment remains on a slower track, with the sector adding 9,500 jobs in February bringing the three month average to 5,900. The government sector added 13,000 jobs, with gains at the state and local level offsetting the loss of 6,800 jobs. Non-postal federal employment is now down by 72,900 (3.5 percent) over the last year.
The motion picture industry lost 14,100 jobs in February. Employment is down by 56,600 (15.5 percent) over the year, hitting its lowest level since June of 1995. Construction continued its upswing in spite of the weather adding 15,000 jobs. Unemployment in the sector is actually below pre-boom levels, with the unemployment rate averaging 12.6 percent in January and February compared with 14.0 percent for the same months in 2003.
The average hourly wage for all workers increased at a 2.3 percent annual rate in the last three months compared with the prior three. Interestingly, wages for production and non-supervisory workers rose somewhat more rapidly, growing at a 3.3 percent pace over this period. This implies that less educated workers seem to be doing somewhat better in the current economy, the opposite of the skills shortage view that is widely being promoted.
The household survey showed the unemployment rate sliding up to 6.7 percent. The big losers for the month were African American men, who saw a jump in their unemployment rate from 12.0 percent to 12.9 percent, the same as the January 2013 level. The EPOP for African American men is now 58.0, down more than 8.0 percentage points from pre-recession peaks. These numbers are erratic, but the general trend here has not been good.
By education level the big losers were those with college degrees who saw their unemployment rise from 3.2 percent to 3.4 percent. This compares to a pre-recession of level of just 2.0 percent. The number of workers involuntarily working part time fell by 59,000 in February, the lowest level since October of 2008. As happened in 2013 the duration measures of unemployment rose in February after falling sharply in January. This is explained by the shortening of benefit duration at the start of the year which leads many workers to drop out of the labor force. The percent of unemployment attributable to job leavers edged down to 7.8 percent, well below the average for 2013 and not much above the low of 5.5 percent at the trough. (By comparison, the pre-recession levels were close to 12.0 percent.) This doesn't show confidence in the strength of the labor market.
It is difficult to determine the impact of the weather, but it is likely that we will continue to see a moderate pace of improvement in the job market in the months ahead. The recent wage growth is good, but still may prove anomalous.

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