Friday’s blowout jobs report may have quieted claims that the U.S. is in a recession, but it did not end the mystery about the state of the economy or resolve questions about where it is headed.
So far, in a real-world test of a new approach to economic policy, prices have been rising faster than wages.
There is a big idea in economic policy that has become ascendant in recent years: Great things can be achieved for American workers if the economy is allowed to run hot.
The notion of creating a “high-pressure” economy is that government should be willing to risk a bit of inflation in the near term to achieve conditions that will over the long run lift people out of poverty, prevent the scars of recessions from becoming permanent, and make the nation’s economic potential stronger.
This idea has origins in a 1973 paper by Arthur M. Okun, and was largely confined to think tank conferences in the 2010s. Now, it is the intellectual underpinning of American economic policy, embraced at the highest levels by the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve.
It makes for a real-world test of a new approach to economic policy. The results so far show that pushing the economic accelerator to the floor has trade-offs, specifically the combination of trillions in federal spending with interest rates held near zero.
While that combination has some created some important beneficial effects, the summer of 2021 has not produced quite the high-pressure economy its enthusiasts were hoping for.
The good news is that job openings are abundant, wages for people at the lower end of the pay scale are rising quickly, and it appears that the post-pandemic recovery won’t be like the long slog that followed the three previous recessions.
But consumer prices have been rising faster than average wages — meaning that, on average, workers are seeing the purchasing power of their paycheck fall. People looking to buy a car or build a house or obtain a wide variety of other products are finding it hard to do so. And while much of that reflects temporary supply disruptions that should abate in coming months, other forces could keep prices rising. These include soaring rents and the delayed effects of higher prices from companies having to pay higher wages.
“I don’t think of the last few months as either vindication or repudiation, yet,” said Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute and a longtime enthusiast of policymakers seeking a high-pressure economy.
In effect, unlike the slow-moving developments of the 2010s, when the debates over running the economy hot took shape, things are moving so fast right now that it is hard to be sure how things will look as conditions stabilize.
Still, “I think the benefits of carrying on the go-for-growth strategy will come,” Mr. Bivens said, noting exceptionally strong job creation in recent months.
A more traditional view has been that it is unwise for policymakers to try to push unemployment too low, because doing so will generate inflation. That thinking lost credibility as the 2010s progressed — the jobless rate fell ever lower, with few signs of an inflation spike.
But while the tight labor market from 2017 to 2019 generated strong inflation-adjusted wage gains for workers, especially at the lower end of the pay scale, there is nothing automatic about that process. In a booming economy, if companies raise prices more rapidly than they increase worker pay — taking a higher markup on the products they sell — it will mean workers are effectively making less for each hour of work.
In the past, it has cut both ways. In the strong economies of the late 1960s and late 1990s, average hourly earnings for nonmanagerial workers persistently rose faster than inflation. In the late 1980s, the reverse was true.
And it is also true now. Wages and salaries in the private sector were up 3.6 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to Employment Cost Index data, the strongest since 2002. But the Consumer Price Index was up 4.8 percent in that same span, meaning workers lost ground. Other measures of compensation and inflation tell a similar story.
One big question is whether elevated inflation is simply an unavoidable consequence of the reopening of the economy after a pandemic, or is at least partly a result of the aggressive use of fiscal and monetary policy to heat up the economy quickly.
For example, automobile prices are through the roof, which analysts attribute mainly to microchip shortages caused by production decisions made during the pandemic. But is part of the spike in prices also a result of high demand, spurred by stimulus checks the government has sent and low interest rates that make car loans cheap?
Jason Furman, a Harvard economist and former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, points out that the United States is experiencing significantly higher inflation than other countries that are facing the same supply problems. Consumer prices rose 2.2 percent in the year ended in July in the euro area, compared with 5.4 percent in the United States.
“My guess is that real wage growth is faring better right now in Europe than it is in the United States, and it’s faring better because there is less demand and thus less inflation,” Mr. Furman said.
The story is better when you look at how lower-paid workers in the United States are doing. The shortages of workers, especially in service industries, are translating into raises for people who don’t make a lot. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta shows that median hourly wages for people in the bottom 25 percent of earners have risen at a 4.6 percent rate over the last year, compared with 2.8 percent for the top 25 percent.
And many of the benefits of a hot economy come in the form of pulling more people into the work force and enabling them to work more hours. Employers have added an average of 617,000 jobs a month so far in 2021, versus 173,000 a month in 2011, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. If sustained, the United States is on track to return to its prepandemic employment level two years after the recession ended. Such a recovery took five years after the previous recession.
Advocates of running a hot economy emphasize that a rapid recovery is good for reducing inequality, in part by ensuring there are plenty of job opportunities so that people don’t have to be out of work for long stretches.
“We are seeing ongoing stimulus and expanded income support programs doing what they’re supposed to do,” said J.W. Mason, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and a longtime proponent of running the economy hot. “The numbers we should really be looking at are employment growth and wage growth, especially at the low end, and those trends are positive and encouraging. They’re the numbers we would have hoped to see at the beginning of the year.”
In the late years of the last expansion, employment gains were particularly strong for racial minorities, people with low levels of education, and some others who often have a hard time getting hired.
“The thing we know for certain is that when you run a hot economy, people get jobs who wouldn’t otherwise get jobs,” Mr. Furman said. “That by itself is sufficient reason to want to run a hot economy. You’re talking about some of the most vulnerable workers getting hired, and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Still, even some supporters of running the economy hot see risk that the scale and pace of stimulus actions have been too much.
“It’s not that my commitment to a tight labor market has weakened,” said Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute, one of the center-right voices who favored the approach. “It’s that the specific policy mix is a mistake, for a bunch of reasons. There is such a thing as too much stimulus, which becomes counterproductive, either because inflation eats away wage gains or the supply side of the economy can’t keep up.”
Even people who believe in a high-pressure economy, in other words, would do well to keep an eye on just how high that pressure is getting, and how sustainable it really is.
Charting the Global Economy: Job Growth in US Powers Ahead – BNN
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The strongest US job growth in five months and firmer-than-expected worker pay assuaged recession concerns, while also helping clear the path for the Federal Reserve to continue large interest-rate hikes.
In Europe and Asia, factory production weakened on lingering supply-chain constraints that are contributing to persistent price pressures. The Bank of England stepped up its inflation fight with the biggest rate increase in more than a quarter century, while also cautioning that the UK is headed for more than a year of recession.
Here are some of the charts that appeared on Bloomberg this week on the latest developments in the global economy:
Central banks around the world continued raising interest rates this week. Australia, Brazil, India and the UK were among those hiking by 50 basis points, while Romania went for 75 basis points and Madagascar for 90 basis points.
The standoff between the US and China over Taiwan has thrown a spotlight on growing risks to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes — even a minor disruption could ripple through supply chains. Almost half of the global container fleet and a whopping 88% of the world’s largest ships by tonnage passed through the Taiwan Strait this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
European factory activity plunged and Asian manufacturing output continued to weaken in July amid lingering supply-chain complications and a slowing global economy. Purchasing managers’ indexes for the euro area’s four largest members all indicated contraction, while China, South Korea and Taiwan took the biggest hit in Asia.
Employers added more than double the number of jobs forecast, illustrating rock-solid labor demand that tempers recession worries and suggests the Federal Reserve will press on with steep interest-rate hikes to thwart inflation.
Household debt increased by 2% to $16.2 trillion in the second quarter, with mortgages, auto loans and credit-card balances all seeing sizable jumps, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
With almost two openings for every person looking for work, US companies are increasingly tapping high school students for skilled jobs. As a result, apprenticeships are seeing a renaissance after failing to gain a foothold over the past few decades.
The Bank of England unleashed its biggest interest-rate hike in 27 years as it warned the UK is heading for more than a year of recession under the weight of soaring inflation. The half-point increase to 1.75% was backed by eight of the bank’s nine policy makers, who also kept up a pledge to act forcefully again in the future if needed.
German factory orders sank for a fifth month in June as rampant inflation and global supply disruptions continued to weigh on the outlook in Europe’s largest economy.
Germany’s presidential palace in Berlin is no longer lit at night, the city of Hanover is turning off warm water in the showers of its pools and gyms, and municipalities across the country are preparing heating havens to keep people safe from the cold. And that’s just the beginning of a crisis that will ripple across Europe.
It’s 2025 in Beijing, five years since the start of the pandemic, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Covid Zero policy is still an inescapable part of daily life. As omicron sub-variants become ever-more infectious, Xi’s resolve to avert virus fatalities is growing stronger – leading many experts to warn that Covid Zero could continue well beyond 2022.
Major South Korean firms are agreeing to the biggest pay rises in 19 years, according to a government survey, fueling concerns that a wage-price spiral is taking hold in the economy. Salary agreements at companies with 100 workers or more climbed 5.3% in the first half of the year, exceeding every increase since 2003, a labor ministry poll showed.
Turkish inflation accelerated again and may be months away from peaking, soaring to levels unseen since 1998 as the central bank sticks with its ultra-loose monetary course.
Brazil’s central bank raised its key interest rate by half a percentage point and left the door open for a smaller boost in September as it shifts its focus to the outlook for inflation more than a year ahead.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
The economy is growing by one measure, shrinking by another – The Washington Post
Government data showing the economy had contracted for the second consecutive quarter — meeting one informal definition of recession — was still fresh, as the Labor Department on Friday said employers had added 528,000 jobs in July. That was more than twice as many as economists expected.
Only eight days separated the two government reports, yet they seemed to describe entirely different realities.
The first showed a weak economy that — coupled with the highest inflation in 40 years — offered consumers nothing but grief. The second reflected a juggernaut that was minting jobs faster than workers could be found to fill them, with an unemployment rate that matched the pre-pandemic low of 3.5 percent.
“It’s normal for different economic indicators to point in different directions. It’s the magnitude of the discrepancies right now that’s unprecedented,” said Jason Furman, formerly President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser. “It isn’t just that the economy is growing in one measure and shrinking in another. It’s growing incredibly strongly in one measure while shrinking at a pretty decent clip in another.”
In Washington on Friday, President Biden took a victory lap for the job growth while claiming credit for gas prices having declined for more than 50 consecutive days. Yet he also acknowledged the disconnect between the sunny employment report and the inflation headaches that afflict many households.
“I know people will hear today’s extraordinary jobs report and say they don’t see it, they don’t feel it in their own lives,” the president said, speaking from a White House balcony. “I know how hard it is. I know it’s hard to feel good about job creation when you already have a job and you’re dealing with rising prices, food and gas, and so much more. I get it.”
The surprisingly robust jobs number seemed to call into question the president’s argument that the economy is undergoing a “transition” from its faster growth rates last year to a slower, more sustainable pace.
No one expects the economy to continue producing half a million new jobs each month. No one thinks it could without inflation remaining at uncomfortable heights.
Almost five months after the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates to cool off the economy and to bring down the highest inflation since the early 1980s, the labor market report showed that the nation’s central bank has more work to do. Average hourly earnings for private sector workers rose by 5.2 percent over the past year, which hints at the sort of wage-price spiral that the Fed is determined to prevent.
Last month, the Fed lifted its benchmark interest rate to a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent, its highest level in almost four years. Yet in “real” or inflation-adjusted terms, borrowing costs remain deeply negative, which acts as a spur to economic growth.
Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell said last month that additional rate increases are likely when policymakers next meet on Sept. 21. The size of the next increase – either half a percentage point or three-quarters of a point – will “depend on the data we get between now and then,” he told reporters.
Investors see a 70 percent chance of the larger move, according to CME Group, which tracks purchases of derivatives linked to the central bank’s key rate.
On Wednesday, the government is scheduled to release inflation readings for July, which are expected to show a modest improvement compared to June’s 9.1 percent figure, thanks to falling energy prices.
Powell’s decision to stop telegraphing Fed moves by providing “forward guidance” of its plans is itself a sign that the current environment is murkier than usual.
“A lot of what’s happening in this economy is being driven by the pandemic, and then the pandemic response. And so, we are in a very unusual time, in many ways [it’s] challenging to sort of read through those data,” Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, and a voting member of the Fed’s rate-setting committee, told The Washington Post this week.
Almost 22 million Americans lost their jobs between February and April of 2020 in covid’s first months. The unemployment rate hit 14.7 percent, the highest figure recorded by the Labor Department in a series that began in 1948.
With July’s gains, the economy now has recovered all of the lost jobs.
But the workforce has been reshaped. There are more warehouse and logistics workers today and fewer employees working for hotels and airlines.
Employers are reacting differently than they did before the pandemic to indications that the economy may be slowing, according to Gregory Daco, chief economist for EY-Parthenon. Rather than immediately resorting to significant layoffs, they are instead scaling back hiring or engaging in targeted job cuts.
Weekly first-time unemployment claims are up, but only to 260,000 from their 54-year low of 166,000 in March.
Consumers have also acted differently, buying more goods than normal while trapped at home during the pandemic’s initial wave. Retailers that ordered unusual volumes of furniture, electronics and apparel from overseas suppliers later misjudged the pace of consumers’ return to traditional buying patterns, leaving stores stuffed with unwanted goods.
On top of the pandemic’s lingering ills, the war in Ukraine has disrupted global commodity markets, contributing to higher inflation.
All of these forces combined to produce economic data that is unusual and sometimes contradictory. Friday’s jobs report showed 32,000 new construction jobs and 30,000 new factory jobs created in the month. Yet housing starts have fallen for the past two months and the latest ISM manufacturing reading was the weakest in two years.
“We are in somewhat of a dizzying business cycle. We’re getting economic data that is fluctuating quite rapidly and it’s very hard to get a precise read on where the economy is at any point in time,” Daco said.
Individual data points also provide snapshots of the economy that are out of sync, said Kathryn Edwards, an economist at the Rand Corp.
Friday’s Labor Department report tallied up jobs gained in July. The last consumer price index reading covered June. And the gross domestic product reading that started the recession furor described activity that occurred between April and June – and will be revised twice.
“It’s a challenge for an economist, but also for a reader who wants to understand how at risk they are for an economic downturn,” she said.
Labor market and output data have been telling different stories about the economy all year. After six straight months of shrinkage, the economy is roughly $125 billion smaller than it was at the end of 2021, according to inflation-adjusted Commerce Department data.
Yet employers have hired 3.3 million new workers over that same period.
How could more workers be producing fewer goods and services?
One explanation is that workers are less productive today than during the emergency phase of the pandemic, when companies struggled to keep producing their required orders with fewer workers, Furman said.
Indeed, non-farm business productivity in the first quarter fell 7.3 percent, the largest decline since 1947, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Preliminary results for the second quarter will be made public on Tuesday and are likely to show the largest two-quarter drop in history, he said.
Those figures may overstate the change. During the pandemic, companies may have been able to maintain output with a covid-thinned workforce by exhorting or incentivizing the remaining workers to work harder or longer. But there is a limit to how long bosses can motivate people by citing emergency conditions.
“They worked extra hard, but they wouldn’t work extra hard forever,” Furman said.
Likewise, the labor force participation rate usually rises when employers are adding jobs and the unemployment rate is falling. But since March, it has fallen, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Some Americans retired instead of risking working during the pandemic. Others — mostly women — who lacked adequate child care, stayed home with young children or other vulnerable relatives.
An April paper by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond found that “the pandemic has permanently reduced participation in the economy.”
Participation by Americans in their prime working years, ages 25 to 54, has almost entirely recovered. But for those 55 and older, there has been almost no improvement since the initial plunge at the outset of the pandemic. And for younger workers, age 20 to 24, participation is lower now than at the end of last year.
“I don’t think we have a great handle on why other workers are not coming back,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. economist for Oxford Economics. “It’s just such an unusual period.”
Canadian economy sheds jobs for second straight month – BNN
Canada’s economy lost 30,600 jobs in July, according to data from Statistics Canada on Friday. This marks the second consecutive month of employment losses for the country.
The data came in weaker than expected. The median estimate among economists tracked by Bloomberg was for a gain of 15,000 jobs last month and an unemployment rate of 5.0 per cent.
The country’s unemployment rate remained steady at a historic low of 4.9 per cent.
The wholesale and retail trade, health care and social assistance, and educational services sectors collectively saw a loss of 53,000 jobs. The losses were partially offset by the goods-producing sector which gained 23,000 jobs, the labour force survey revealed.
The decline in jobs was roughly the same in both part-time and full-time work, though employment fell the most among women aged 55 and over.
The overall participation rate fell 0.2 per cent to 64.7 per cent in July, compared to the 0.4 percentage point drop in June.
The average hourly wages of employees rose 5.2 per cent on a year-over-year basis, matching the pace set in June.
“This is a notoriously noisy survey, especially in the summer months, July and August. The numbers bounce around a lot. I think what’s important here is that the North American economies are slowing,” Philip Cross, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a former chief economic analyst of Statistics Canada, said in an interview Friday morning.
He also cautioned that Canada’s housing sector is vulnerable to the rising interest rate environment and could lag behind the U.S.
“There are some pockets of resilience in the economy. The resource sector is one,” Cross said.
The Bank of Canada has attempted to rein in runway inflation with aggressive interest rate hikes. Friday’s jobs data will likely help inform the central bank’s next scheduled interest rate decision in September.
“While today’s figures muddied the waters further for policymakers, the Bank of Canada will likely focus on the historic low unemployment rate and still strong wage growth to justify another non-standard rate hike at its next meeting,” Andrew Grantham, a senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets, wrote in a note to clients on Friday.
The Bank of Canada remains committed to reaching its target rate of two per cent inflation.
“Evidence that the economy is slowing due to weakening demand, rather than supply constraints, will bring a pause in this rate hike cycle following the next hike,” Grantham said.
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