The last time the national unemployment rate was this low Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” and Mario Puzzo’s “The Godfather” were the number one and two hottest selling books of the year, Peter Paul and Mary’s “Leaving On a Jet Plane,” probably on a 747–which made its first passenger flight that month–was the number one song (Nixon was president, after all), the first draft lottery was held to feed an eventual half million draftees to the Vietnam killing fields (18,000 of the 58,000 Americans killed were draftees) and CBS aired “Frosty the Snowman.”
It was December 1969, almost 50 years ago. The unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, as it had been the previous month, though it would never be that low again–until April 2019: it never went below 5.3 percent during the Reagan years, and even the boom of the late Clinton years didn’t make it lower than 3.9 percent. President Trump gloated on Twitter this morning: “We can all agree that AMERICA is now #1.” (Actually, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Iceland and the Czech Republic, to name a few, all have unemployment rates lower than that of the United States.)
The economy added 263,000 net jobs in April, reducing the number of unemployed people to 5.8 million. There were 7.1 million job openings on the last business day of February, half a million openings fewer than the previous month, but still a number well ahead of the total number of unemployed persons. In one of the very few clouds in the month’s jobs report, openings decreased in a number of industries, with the largest decreases in accommodation and food services (-103,000), real estate and rental and leasing (-72,000), and transportation, warehousing, and utilities (-66,000). The number of job openings fell in the Northeast, South, and Midwest regions.
The number of people working part-time for economic reasons–that is, because they could not find full-time work or because their hours were cut back–totaled 4.7 million, an increase over March and February, but the number is roughly half where it was in 2009, as the nation was pulling out of the Great Recession.
Industries picking up jobs include construction (33,000), health care (27,000), social assistance (26,000), financial activities (12,000) and manufacturing (4,000). Retail lost 12,000 jobs.
Wages again increased: In April, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 6 cents to $27.77. Over the year, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.2 percent, well exceeding the 1.6 percent rate of inflation, which means that the difference lifts the net standard of living. The year-over-year average hourly earnings have grown at or exceeded 3.0% for nine straight months. Wage growth has not risen this fast since 2009,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said in a statement.
“For 14 consecutive months, the unemployment rate has remained at or below 4.0% and this month included widespread good news: the unemployment rate reached record lows for Hispanic-Americans, Americans with disabilities, and Gulf War II veterans, and matched record lows for Asian Americans and all veterans,” he said.
“Because this is 2019 and everything immediately devolves into partisan warfare, these good results are immediately seized upon by Trump partisans who view the good news as a result of the president’s policies, and by opponents who give credit to the already-improving economy that President Obama handed over in January 2017,” The Time reported this morning. “There is truth in both. The job market had already been improving for years when President Trump took office, and its performance since then has been more continuation of the trend than an abrupt upturn.”
The unemployment rate has gone below its 1969 rate: in late 1952, and most of 1953, it was below 3 percent, bottoming out at 2.5 percent in June 1953, still the post-war low (and Japan’s current rate). The lowest unemployment in the West today is the Czech Republic’s 2 percent, followed by Switzerland at 2.4 percent.