Ready for Liftoff?

Another first Friday of the month, another jobs report. By the time you read this the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) monthly Employment Situation Summary for October may have been released diligently at 8:30AM Eastern Time on the appointed date. The stock market may be reacting and everyone will turn their attention to the Federal Reserve.

It’s a strange ritual which keeps financial writers busy. But does it mean anything?

If all goes as it should this one should really move the markets. Exactly which direction is hard to tell for a variety of reasons – but that is what will matter more than anything else if this report comes in as “good” (in quotes) as it should be.

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Demographics is Still Destiny

Just about 12 hours after this post goes up, the world will see the ADP Employment Report for July. We can expect it to show a net gain of about 240k jobs, about the same as the 237k gained in June. It’s a decent number, higher than the 220k or so averaged last year at this time, but what does it really mean?

Context is the key to understanding the data that drives our world, so let’s get going with some solid background on what these figures mean. It’s time for a few charts and graphs once again to demonstrate just how strong things really are going into the magic period where Baby Boomers start to retire in droves – sometime after 2017.

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Fight for $15

The fight for a $15 per hour minimum wage is the hottest issue among progressive Democrats today. There has been a lot of progress as cities including Seattle and Los Angeles have passed this as their minimum wage, as has the entire state of New York (but only for “fast food” workers, strangely). It would be a big hike from today’s $7.25 per hour, a 106% increase that swamps any previous jump. President Obama, and many Democrats, favor a smaller $12 per hour rate as something of a compromise.

But where did these numbers come from? Why are they important? What effects would a minimum wage rise have on the economy? It’s worth spending some time looking at the postwar history of the minimum wage, from 1947 to 2015, to see where we are today and what it means.

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Tax Profits, Not Labor!

Are you properly compensated for your work? As we discussed previously, between 1947 and 1973 worker’s salaries accounted for half of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). There was a solid if unspoken agreement that labor and capital split the spoils of the free market equally between them.

But what of output per worker? Is it possible that workers are slacking off and don’t deserve the same arrangement they had in the immediate Post WWII era? An analysis of productivity, or output per worker, shows some interesting trends that may point to more unspoken agreements that the various markets for capital and labor expect. These trends follow business cycles, and as such point to some important changes that are necessary as we move ahead into the next cycle in the next few years.

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Not Hiring, but not Firing

Where are the jobs? Job creation has been the hot economic topic since the big downturn in 2008. The sooner we have full employment the sooner demand for goods and services will turn around and there will be a net upward pressure on wages. But in 2015 the rate of increase in jobs has slowed somewhat, barely hitting 200k net every month from a solid run of 220k the year before. What happened?

The data is even more confounding when you look at the net good news on jobs – that initial claims for unemployment per week are at an all-time low as a percent of total jobs. We’re not creating jobs as fast as we should, but we also aren’t losing them. Along with a large backlog of unfilled job postings there is substantial evidence that something is wrong. Is it a skills gap? Or something else?

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