“Holy Moly!” exclaim the financial media. They marvel at a headline unemployment number of 5.9%. They celebrate year-to-date job growth that is averaging about 220,000 positions per month. “This economy is much better than people think!”
However, the economic optimists are wrong. The labor market is uncommonly weak.
So why did stocks rocket higher on the job news? In essence, Mr. Market knows that Janet Yellen’s Federal Reserve will not be raising overnight lending rates anytime soon. The Fed won’t be raising rates in the 1st quarter of 2015; you won’t see it in the 2nd quarter either. Not when average hourly earnings drop. And not when the labor force participation rate – the actual employment rate for working aged individuals – resumes it descent.
Many television analysts trumpeted the fact that the total number of jobs today are on par with the total number of jobs at the start of the Great Recession (12/07). “We’re back!” they cheer. The comparison misses the point that there are 3.2 million more Americans now than there were in December of 2007 who are unemployed or working less than they would like; they’re not able to find full-time employment.
It gets worse. Tack on another 7 million folks who have dropped out of the labor pool altogether. How many of those “retirees” genuinely chose to pursue a life of leisure? Or are the majority so discouraged that they simply stopped looking? How many found a path to collecting government-assisted disability? How many of the newly retired joined the ranks of roughly 50 million food-stamp recipients?