The last time the American economy shed jobs was in September 2010, when it lost 63,000. Since then, the economy has added jobs for seven straight years and then some, or 87 straight months.
With the addition of 200,000 jobs in January, that makes it 88 months, an expansion longer than any since the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been keeping such records since 1939. The Reagan years could have had a run of 82 months had it not been for a one-month loss of 94,000 in 1986, and the Clinton years could have had an 85-month run were it not for two blips along the way.
The unemployment rate remained stuck at 4.1 percent for the fourth straight month, but more relevant to workers, wages increased solidly for the second month, improving by 9 cents an hour after an 11-cent increase in December, and 75 cents for the past 12 months, an improvement of 2.9 percent. But that’s still barely ahead of inflation: workers are keeping up with the cost of living. Their pay is not allowing them to improve their standard of living.
That’s been true since well before the Great Recession–stagnant wage growth that has boggled some economists amid soaring stock markets and company profits, though other indicators remove some of the mystery: much of the wealth has gone to dividends and shifted to the upper brackets of the income pool while union membership has continued to fall, the federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 since 2009 (Florida’s, annually adjusted after voters approved a constitutional amendment to peg it to inflation, is at $8.25), and productivity has stalled, especially when compared with productivity’s roaring 90s.
The labor force participation rate continues to stagnate, remaining at 62.7 percent for the fourth consecutive month, with the employment-to-population ratio at 60.1, unchanged for three months. The number of people employed part-time for economic reasons–that is, people who want to work full time but had their hours cut back, or could not find full-time work–is at 5 million. When that measure of underemployment is added to the Labor Department’s tabulation, the more accurate unemployment and underemployment rate stands at 8.2 percent–itself still a considerable improvement over the 10.1 percent rate a year ago. Florida’s unemployment and underemployment rate is at 9.1 percent.
Nationally there were 6.7 million officially unemployed Americans, a figure that does not reflect the number of workers who have dropped out of the labor force. Unemployment for blacks increased to 7.7 percent in
January. It decreased for whites, to 3.5 percent. Construction added 36,000 jobs, restaurants and bars added 31,000 jobs, manufacturing added 15,000, and other sectors remained flat.
“In the President’s first year in office,” Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said in a statement issued after Tuesdday’s State of the Union address, “the U.S. economy created over 2 million jobs; unemployment fell to 4.1%, a 17-year low; and Americans’ retirement savings have benefited from dramatic gains, fueled by a 42% increase in the stock market since Election Day 2016. Additionally, there has been an overwhelmingly positive response from job creators to the President’s landmark tax reform law.”
“Most economists,” The Times’s Ben Casselman writes this morning in light of the jobs report, “contend that Mr. Trump deserves relatively little credit for the strong economy, which predates his election and is partly a result of a global rebound outside his control. But it is true that recent job growth has been concentrated in blue-collar sectors that Mr. Trump has often emphasized. And it is likewise true that the improving labor market is increasingly reaching groups, including African-Americans, that are often at a disadvantage.”