What to Watch on Jobs Day: Data volatility or signs of an economic slowdown?
On Friday, the release of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates of June job growth and unemployment will provide a first look at how the labor market has performed over the first half of the year. The unfortunate timing of the release for the Friday after the Independence Day holiday, however, means that EPI will have limited capacity to perform a full same-day analysis. But there are several things I will be tracking this Friday.
May’s noticeable slowdown in the pace of job growth, foreshadowed by the exceptionally slow pace of hiring reported by ADP last month, raised some concerns about whether an economic slowdown was imminent. The economy added 75,000 jobs in May which was significantly less than April’s growth of 224,000 and below the year-to-date average of 164,000 a month. With the June ADP estimates coming in much higher—102,000 private sector jobs added in June compared to 41,000 in May— we will be looking to see if there’s a similar rebound in the BLS estimates.
Overall, May’s unemployment rate, labor force participation rate, and share of the population with a job each signaled an economy basically treading water. However, there have been questions about whether the recent rise in the black unemployment rate is another potential sign of a slowing economy or just typical volatility in the data series. Last month, the black unemployment rate ticked down 0.5 percentage point to 6.2 percent after rising from 6.0 percent in November to as high as 7.0 percent in February. Over the same period of time, the white unemployment rate has remained relatively stable. Given that tighter labor markets have typically yielded disproportionate improvements for black workers and other historically disadvantaged groups, I will be tracking whether the June numbers provide any more clarity about what (if any) conclusions we can draw from the black unemployment rate.
EPI’s nominal wage tracker has shown a distinct leveling off as well in very recent months after pretty sharp and steady improvements in year-over-year wage growth between 2017 and 2018. On average, nominal wages (not adjusted for inflation) grew 2.6 percent in both 2016 and 2017. In 2018, they grew an average of 3.0 percent over the year. Wages continued to rise in the latter half of 2018, and averaged 3.3 percent in the last quarter of the year as well as in the first four months of 2019. In May, wage growth came in at 3.1 percent over the year. This pace is not terribly off trend, but to be at genuine full employment, nominal wage growth would have to be at least 3.5 percent for a consistent period of time to allow labor share of corporate sector income to recover.
Next week, we will provide a more comprehensive analysis of the June jobs report.