What to Watch on Jobs Day: Taking stock of the labor market, 10 years since the start of the Great Recession

The last jobs report of 2017 comes out on Friday, giving us a chance to step back and look at the entire year. Tomorrow’s jobs report also marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Great Recession. My expectation is that the December data will confirm that, while by some measures the economy has almost recovered its immediate pre-Great Recession health, by other measures it is still notably weaker than in 2007, the last year before the Great Recession hit. Further, as I have often noted, 2007 should not be considered a benchmark for a fully healthy economy for America’s workers. Almost all labor market measures were notably weaker in 2007 than they were at the previous business cycle peak in 2000. There was very little reason to think that the U.S. economy in 2007 was at full employment. If one looks at the stronger business cycle peak of 2000 as a more appropriate benchmark, the economy in 2017 looks even weaker, and the case for continued policy support for faster growth is strengthened. Many working people are still not seeing the recovery reflected in their paychecks—and the economy will not be at genuine full employment until employers start offering workers higher wages.

In this post—and tomorrow when the December numbers come out—I’m going to look at average payroll employment growth over the last several years. Because there is always a bit of volatility in the monthly data—especially in the household series—taking a year-long approach allows us to smooth out the bumps and take stock of all the key measures: payroll employment growth, the unemployment rate, the employment-to-population ratio, and nominal wage growth.

The figure below shows average nonfarm employment growth for 2007–2016 and for the first 11 months of 2017. With an average of 174,000 new jobs being added each month, job growth in the first 11 months of 2017 was slower than in any year since 2011. But even at this slower pace of growth we are not only absorbing population growth, but also chipping away at the slack remaining in the labor market—namely workers who continue to be sidelined and who I expect will enter or re-enter the labor market as opportunities for jobs and better paying jobs expand. If December’s numbers are in line with payroll employment growth over the last several months, it will be more proof that the economy is continuing its slow but steady march towards full employment.

Figure A

Average monthly total nonfarm employment growth, 2006–2017

Year Average monthly total nonfarm employment growth
2006 174
2007 96
2008 -297
2009 -422
2010 88
2011 174
2012 179
2013 192
2014 250
2015 226
2016 187
2017 174
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Notes: Because full 2017 monthly employment data are not yet available, the chart compares average monthly job growth between January and November for 2017.

Source: Data are from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) series of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and are subject to occasional revisions. This chart was based on data accessed in December 2017.

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Further evidence of a steadily improving economy is the unemployment rate, which continued to fall through 2017 to a low of 4.1 percent in November. It is now far below its Great Recession peak (10.0 percent), and even below where it was when the recession began (5.0 percent). Despite this low water mark, there is still room for improvement. The unemployment rate came in at an average of 4.4 percent in 2017 (without December). In 2000, the unemployment rate averaged 4.0 percent, and fell below 4.0 percent for five months that year. Given that 2000 saw no pronounced acceleration of inflation, and given that inflation remains below the Federal Reserve’s preferred target today—and has actually decelerated in recent months—it seems safe to say that the unemployment rate can continue to fall without risking rapidly accelerating inflation.

Furthermore, today’s unemployment rate is associated with additional slack by other measures than in the past. For example, the share of prime-age workers with jobs—the prime-age employment-to-population ratio (EPOP)—remains quite depressed relative to previous job-market recoveries. The prime-age EPOP has improved greatly in the recovery and is now at 79.0 percent, having finally successfully passed the low points of the last two full business cycles. But, as the figure below shows, it’s still below its pre-Great Recession peak (80.3 percent) and significantly below its full employment peak of 81.9 percent. That suggests there still is ample room to pull in workers who remain idled by the economic crisis.

Jobs Day

Employment-to-population ratio of workers ages 25-54, 1989–2018

date Employment to population ratio 
Jan-1989 80.0%
Feb-1989 79.9
Mar-1989 79.9
Apr-1989 79.8
May-1989 79.8
Jun-1989 79.8
Jul-1989 79.8
Aug-1989 79.9
Sep-1989 80
Oct-1989 79.9
Nov-1989 80.2
Dec-1989 80.1
Jan-1990 80.2
Feb-1990 80.2
Mar-1990 80.1
Apr-1990 79.9
May-1990 79.9
Jun-1990 79.8
Jul-1990 79.6
Aug-1990 79.5
Sep-1990 79.4
Oct-1990 79.4
Nov-1990 79.2
Dec-1990 79
Jan-1991 78.9
Feb-1991 78.9
Mar-1991 78.7
Apr-1991 79
May-1991 78.6
Jun-1991 78.7
Jul-1991 78.6
Aug-1991 78.5
Sep-1991 78.6
Oct-1991 78.5
Nov-1991 78.4
Dec-1991 78.3
Jan-1992 78.4
Feb-1992 78.2
Mar-1992 78.2
Apr-1992 78.4
May-1992 78.4
Jun-1992 78.5
Jul-1992 78.4
Aug-1992 78.4
Sep-1992 78.3
Oct-1992 78.2
Nov-1992 78.2
Dec-1992 78.2
Jan-1993 78.2
Feb-1993 78.1
Mar-1993 78.2
Apr-1993 78.2
May-1993 78.5
Jun-1993 78.6
Jul-1993 78.6
Aug-1993 78.8
Sep-1993 78.6
Oct-1993 78.7
Nov-1993 79
Dec-1993 79
Jan-1994 78.9
Feb-1994 78.9
Mar-1994 78.9
Apr-1994 79
May-1994 79.2
Jun-1994 78.8
Jul-1994 79.1
Aug-1994 79.2
Sep-1994 79.6
Oct-1994 79.6
Nov-1994 79.8
Dec-1994 79.8
Jan-1995 79.7
Feb-1995 80
Mar-1995 79.9
Apr-1995 79.8
May-1995 79.7
Jun-1995 79.5
Jul-1995 79.7
Aug-1995 79.6
Sep-1995 79.8
Oct-1995 79.8
Nov-1995 79.7
Dec-1995 79.7
Jan-1996 79.8
Feb-1996 79.9
Mar-1996 79.9
Apr-1996 79.9
May-1996 80
Jun-1996 80.1
Jul-1996 80.4
Aug-1996 80.5
Sep-1996 80.4
Oct-1996 80.6
Nov-1996 80.5
Dec-1996 80.5
Jan-1997 80.5
Feb-1997 80.4
Mar-1997 80.6
Apr-1997 80.7
May-1997 80.6
Jun-1997 80.9
Jul-1997 81.1
Aug-1997 81.3
Sep-1997 81.1
Oct-1997 81.1
Nov-1997 81
Dec-1997 81
Jan-1998 81
Feb-1998 81
Mar-1998 81
Apr-1998 81.1
May-1998 81
Jun-1998 81
Jul-1998 81.1
Aug-1998 81.2
Sep-1998 81.3
Oct-1998 81.1
Nov-1998 81.2
Dec-1998 81.3
Jan-1999 81.8
Feb-1999 81.5
Mar-1999 81.3
Apr-1999 81.3
May-1999 81.4
Jun-1999 81.4
Jul-1999 81.2
Aug-1999 81.3
Sep-1999 81.3
Oct-1999 81.5
Nov-1999 81.6
Dec-1999 81.5
Jan-2000 81.8
Feb-2000 81.8
Mar-2000 81.7
Apr-2000 81.9
May-2000 81.5
Jun-2000 81.5
Jul-2000 81.3
Aug-2000 81.1
Sep-2000 81.1
Oct-2000 81.1
Nov-2000 81.3
Dec-2000 81.4
Jan-2001 81.4
Feb-2001 81.3
Mar-2001 81.3
Apr-2001 80.9
May-2001 80.8
Jun-2001 80.6
Jul-2001 80.5
Aug-2001 80.2
Sep-2001 80.2
Oct-2001 79.9
Nov-2001 79.7
Dec-2001 79.8
Jan-2002 79.6
Feb-2002 79.8
Mar-2002 79.6
Apr-2002 79.5
May-2002 79.4
Jun-2002 79.2
Jul-2002 79.1
Aug-2002 79.3
Sep-2002 79.4
Oct-2002 79.2
Nov-2002 78.8
Dec-2002 79
Jan-2003 78.9
Feb-2003 78.9
Mar-2003 79
Apr-2003 79.1
May-2003 78.9
Jun-2003 78.9
Jul-2003 78.8
Aug-2003 78.7
Sep-2003 78.6
Oct-2003 78.6
Nov-2003 78.7
Dec-2003 78.8
Jan-2004 78.9
Feb-2004 78.8
Mar-2004 78.7
Apr-2004 78.9
May-2004 79
Jun-2004 79.1
Jul-2004 79.2
Aug-2004 79
Sep-2004 79
Oct-2004 79
Nov-2004 79.1
Dec-2004 78.9
Jan-2005 79.2
Feb-2005 79.2
Mar-2005 79.2
Apr-2005 79.4
May-2005 79.5
Jun-2005 79.2
Jul-2005 79.4
Aug-2005 79.6
Sep-2005 79.4
Oct-2005 79.3
Nov-2005 79.2
Dec-2005 79.3
Jan-2006 79.6
Feb-2006 79.7
Mar-2006 79.8
Apr-2006 79.6
May-2006 79.7
Jun-2006 79.8
Jul-2006 79.8
Aug-2006 79.8
Sep-2006 79.9
Oct-2006 80.1
Nov-2006 80
Dec-2006 80.1
Jan-2007 80.3
Feb-2007 80.1
Mar-2007 80.2
Apr-2007 80
May-2007 80
Jun-2007 79.9
Jul-2007 79.8
Aug-2007 79.8
Sep-2007 79.7
Oct-2007 79.6
Nov-2007 79.7
Dec-2007 79.7
Jan-2008 80
Feb-2008 79.9
Mar-2008 79.8
Apr-2008 79.6
May-2008 79.5
Jun-2008 79.4
Jul-2008 79.2
Aug-2008 78.8
Sep-2008 78.8
Oct-2008 78.4
Nov-2008 78.1
Dec-2008 77.6
Jan-2009 77
Feb-2009 76.7
Mar-2009 76.2
Apr-2009 76.2
May-2009 75.9
Jun-2009 75.9
Jul-2009 75.8
Aug-2009 75.6
Sep-2009 75.1
Oct-2009 75
Nov-2009 75.2
Dec-2009 74.8
Jan-2010 75.1
Feb-2010 75.1
Mar-2010 75.1
Apr-2010 75.4
May-2010 75.1
Jun-2010 75.2
Jul-2010 75.1
Aug-2010 75
Sep-2010 75.1
Oct-2010 75
Nov-2010 74.8
Dec-2010 75
Jan-2011 75.2
Feb-2011 75.1
Mar-2011 75.3
Apr-2011 75.1
May-2011 75.2
Jun-2011 75
Jul-2011 75
Aug-2011 75.1
Sep-2011 74.9
Oct-2011 74.9
Nov-2011 75.3
Dec-2011 75.4
Jan-2012 75.5
Feb-2012 75.5
Mar-2012 75.7
Apr-2012 75.7
May-2012 75.7
Jun-2012 75.6
Jul-2012 75.6
Aug-2012 75.7
Sep-2012 76
Oct-2012 76.1
Nov-2012 75.8
Dec-2012 76
Jan-2013 75.6
Feb-2013 75.8
Mar-2013 75.8
Apr-2013 75.8
May-2013 76
Jun-2013 75.9
Jul-2013 76
Aug-2013 76
Sep-2013 76
Oct-2013 75.6
Nov-2013 76.1
Dec-2013 76.1
Jan-2014 76.4
Feb-2014 76.4
Mar-2014 76.6
Apr-2014 76.5
May-2014 76.4
Jun-2014 76.9
Jul-2014 76.7
Aug-2014 76.8
Sep-2014 76.8
Oct-2014 76.9
Nov-2014 76.9
Dec-2014 77.1
Jan-2015 77.1
Feb-2015 77.2
Mar-2015 77.2
Apr-2015 77.2
May-2015 77.2
Jun-2015 77.4
Jul-2015 77.1
Aug-2015 77.2
Sep-2015 77.2
Oct-2015 77.2
Nov-2015 77.4
Dec-2015 77.4
Jan-2016 77.7
Feb-2016 77.8
Mar-2016 78
Apr-2016 77.8
May-2016 77.8
Jun-2016 77.9
Jul-2016 77.9
Aug-2016 77.8
Sep-2016 78
Oct-2016 78.2
Nov-2016 78.1
Dec-2016 78.1
Jan-2017 78.2
Feb-2017 78.4
Mar-2017 78.5
Apr-2017 78.6
May-2017 78.4
Jun-2017 78.6
Jul-2017 78.6
Aug-2017 78.4
Sep-2017 78.9
Oct-2017 78.9
Nov-2017 79
Dec-2017 79.1
Jan-2018 79
Feb-2018 79.3
Mar-2018 79.2
Apr-2018 79.2
May-2018 79.2
Jun-2018 79.3
Jul-2018 79.5 
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Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey public data

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The last note I’ll say about the unemployment rate is the fact that at 4.1 percent in November, or 4.4 percent over the year, it vastly understates different experiences of the labor market. For instance, young workers face far higher rates of unemployment (9.6 percent in November), as do workers of color. The figure below shows unemployment rates by race and ethnicity. Shown in the dark blue line, the black unemployment rate has come down significantly in the recovery, but it still is elevated at 7.3 percent. Because the roughly 2:1 ratio of black to white unemployment rates—historically accurate but not immutable with policy—each additional reduction in overall unemployment that can be attained actually provides disproportionate benefits to workers of color. Given that these workers have historically faced discriminatory barriers to labor market success, this is an enormously valuable benefit of chasing full employment.

Jobs Day

Unemployment rate of workers age 16 and older by race and ethnicity, 1995–2018

date White Black Hispanic
Jan-1995 4.8 10.3 10.2
Feb-1995 4.7 10.1 9
Mar-1995 4.7 9.7 8.9
Apr-1995 5 10.7 8.9
May-1995 5 10 9.8
Jun-1995 4.9 10.7 9.1
Jul-1995 4.9 10.9 8.8
Aug-1995 4.9 11.1 9.6
Sep-1995 4.9 11.1 9.1
Oct-1995 4.9 10 9.4
Nov-1995 5 9.7 9.5
Dec-1995 4.9 10.2 9.3
Jan-1996 4.9 10.6 9.4
Feb-1996 4.8 10 9.6
Mar-1996 4.8 10.6 9.6
Apr-1996 4.8 10.7 9.6
May-1996 4.9 10.2 9.6
Jun-1996 4.6 10.4 8.8
Jul-1996 4.7 10.6 8.8
Aug-1996 4.4 10.6 8.8
Sep-1996 4.5 10.6 8.2
Oct-1996 4.5 10.7 8
Nov-1996 4.6 10.6 8.5
Dec-1996 4.6 10.5 7.4
Jan-1997 4.5 10.8 8.4
Feb-1997 4.5 10.7 8.2
Mar-1997 4.4 10.5 8.3
Apr-1997 4.3 10.2 8.2
May-1997 4.1 10.3 7.7
Jun-1997 4.2 10.8 7.5
Jul-1997 4.2 9.5 7.9
Aug-1997 4.2 9.4 7.2
Sep-1997 4.2 9.5 7.4
Oct-1997 4.1 9.5 7.8
Nov-1997 3.9 9.5 7
Dec-1997 3.9 10 7.3
Jan-1998 4 9.4 7.1
Feb-1998 3.9 9.3 6.9
Mar-1998 4 9.2 6.9
Apr-1998 3.7 9.1 6.7
May-1998 3.8 8.9 6.9
Jun-1998 3.9 8.8 7.4
Jul-1998 3.8 9.5 7.3
Aug-1998 3.9 8.8 7.4
Sep-1998 3.9 9.1 7.3
Oct-1998 3.9 8.6 7.2
Nov-1998 3.8 8.6 7.1
Dec-1998 3.8 7.7 7.7
Jan-1999 3.8 7.8 6.7
Feb-1999 3.8 8.2 6.7
Mar-1999 3.6 8 5.8
Apr-1999 3.8 7.8 7
May-1999 3.7 7.4 6.7
Jun-1999 3.8 7.7 6.6
Jul-1999 3.7 8.7 6.5
Aug-1999 3.7 7.7 6.5
Sep-1999 3.6 8.5 6.7
Oct-1999 3.5 8.4 6.4
Nov-1999 3.5 8 6
Dec-1999 3.5 7.8 5.8
Jan-2000 3.4 8.2 5.6
Feb-2000 3.6 8.1 5.7
Mar-2000 3.5 7.4 6.1
Apr-2000 3.4 6.8% 5.5
May-2000 3.5 7.7 5.8
Jun-2000 3.4 7.8 5.6
Jul-2000 3.5 7.7 5.8
Aug-2000 3.6 7.9 5.9
Sep-2000 3.5 7.3 5.8
Oct-2000 3.4% 7.3 5.1
Nov-2000 3.5 7.3 6
Dec-2000 3.5 7.4 5.7
Jan-2001 3.6 8.2 5.8
Feb-2001 3.7 7.7 6.1
Mar-2001 3.7 8.3 6.2
Apr-2001 3.9 8 6.4
May-2001 3.8 7.9 6.3
Jun-2001 4 8.3 6.6
Jul-2001 4 8 6.2
Aug-2001 4.3 9.1 6.5
Sep-2001 4.3 8.9 6.7
Oct-2001 4.7 9.5 7.1
Nov-2001 4.9 9.8 7.3
Dec-2001 5.1 10.1 7.7
Jan-2002 5.1 10 7.8
Feb-2002 5 9.9 7
Mar-2002 5 10.5 7.5
Apr-2002 5.2 10.7 8
May-2002 5.1 10.2 7.1
Jun-2002 5.1 10.5 7.4
Jul-2002 5.2 9.8 7.4
Aug-2002 5.1 9.8 7.5
Sep-2002 5.1 9.7 7.4
Oct-2002 5.1 9.8 7.9
Nov-2002 5.1 10.7 7.8
Dec-2002 5.1 11.3 7.9
Jan-2003 5.2 10.5 7.9
Feb-2003 5.1 10.7 7.7
Mar-2003 5.1 10.3 7.8
Apr-2003 5.3 10.9 7.6
May-2003 5.4 10.9 8
Jun-2003 5.5 11.5 8.3
Jul-2003 5.4 10.9 8
Aug-2003 5.4 10.9 7.7
Sep-2003 5.3 11.1 7.3
Oct-2003 5.1 11.4 7.5
Nov-2003 5.2 10.2 7.4
Dec-2003 5 10.1 6.7
Jan-2004 5 10.4 7.3
Feb-2004 4.9 9.7 7.4
Mar-2004 5.1 10.3 7.6
Apr-2004 5 9.8 7.1
May-2004 4.9 10.1 6.9
Jun-2004 5 10.2 6.6
Jul-2004 4.7 11 6.8
Aug-2004 4.7 10.5 6.8
Sep-2004 4.6 10.3 6.8
Oct-2004 4.6 10.8 6.8
Nov-2004 4.6 10.7 6.7
Dec-2004 4.5 10.7 6.6
Jan-2005 4.5 10.6 6
Feb-2005 4.6 10.9 6.3
Mar-2005 4.5 10.5 5.8
Apr-2005 4.4 10.3 6.4
May-2005 4.4 10.1 6
Jun-2005 4.3 10.2 5.7
Jul-2005 4.2 9.2 5.5
Aug-2005 4.2 9.7 5.8
Sep-2005 4.4 9.4 6.4
Oct-2005 4.4 9.1 6
Nov-2005 4.3 10.6 6.1
Dec-2005 4.2 9.2 6.1
Jan-2006 4.1 8.9 5.5
Feb-2006 4.1 9.5 5.4
Mar-2006 4 9.5 5.2
Apr-2006 4.1 9.4 5.5
May-2006 4.1 8.7 5
Jun-2006 4.1 8.9 5.2
Jul-2006 4.1 9.5 5.2
Aug-2006 4.1 8.8 5.3
Sep-2006 3.9 9 5.5
Oct-2006 3.9 8.4 4.8%
Nov-2006 4 8.5 5.1
Dec-2006 3.9 8.3 5
Jan-2007 4.2 7.9 5.5
Feb-2007 4.1 8 5.1
Mar-2007 3.8 8.4 5
Apr-2007 4 8.3 5.6
May-2007 3.9 8.3 5.8
Jun-2007 4.1 8.5 5.5
Jul-2007 4.2 8.1 5.9
Aug-2007 4.2 7.6 5.5
Sep-2007 4.2 8 5.9
Oct-2007 4.1 8.5 5.7
Nov-2007 4.2 8.5 5.9
Dec-2007 4.4 9 6.3
Jan-2008 4.4 9.1 6.3
Feb-2008 4.4 8.4 6.2
Mar-2008 4.5 9.2 6.9
Apr-2008 4.4 8.6 7.1
May-2008 4.8 9.6 6.9
Jun-2008 5 9.4 7.6
Jul-2008 5.2 10 7.5
Aug-2008 5.4 10.6 8
Sep-2008 5.4 11.3 8
Oct-2008 5.9 11.4 8.8
Nov-2008 6.2 11.5 8.7
Dec-2008 6.7 12.1 9.4
Jan-2009 7.1 12.7 10.1
Feb-2009 7.6 13.7 11.3
Mar-2009 8 13.7 11.7
Apr-2009 8.1 15 11.4
May-2009 8.5 15 12.3
Jun-2009 8.7 14.8 12.1
Jul-2009 8.7 14.8 12.5
Aug-2009 8.9 14.8 13%
Sep-2009 8.9 15.3 12.6
Oct-2009 9.2 15.8 12.8
Nov-2009 9.2% 15.7 12.4
Dec-2009 9 16.1 12.8
Jan-2010 8.8 16.5 12.9
Feb-2010 8.9 16.1 12.7
Mar-2010 8.9 16.8% 12.9
Apr-2010 9 16.6 12.5
May-2010 8.7 15.5 12
Jun-2010 8.6 15.2 12.3
Jul-2010 8.5 15.6 12.2
Aug-2010 8.6 15.9 12
Sep-2010 8.6 16 12.3
Oct-2010 8.6 15.6 12.3
Nov-2010 8.9 16.2 12.9
Dec-2010 8.5 15.5 12.9
Jan-2011 8.1 15.8 12.3
Feb-2011 8.1 15.5 11.8
Mar-2011 8 15.8 11.6
Apr-2011 8.1 16.5 11.9
May-2011 7.9 16.3 11.6
Jun-2011 8.1 16.2 11.5
Jul-2011 8 15.9 11.2
Aug-2011 7.9 16.4 11.2
Sep-2011 7.9 15.9 11.2
Oct-2011 7.9 14.6 11.3
Nov-2011 7.7 15.6 11.2
Dec-2011 7.5 15.4 11.1
Jan-2012 7.4 13.6 10.7
Feb-2012 7.4 14 10.9
Mar-2012 7.3 14 10.6
Apr-2012 7.4 13.3 10.3
May-2012 7.4 13.5 10.9
Jun-2012 7.3 14.5 10.9
Jul-2012 7.3 14.2 10.2
Aug-2012 7.2 13.8 10.1
Sep-2012 7 13.6 9.7
Oct-2012 6.9 14.1 10
Nov-2012 6.8 13.3 9.9
Dec-2012 6.9 14 9.6
Jan-2013 7.1 13.7 9.7
Feb-2013 6.8 13.8 9.7
Mar-2013 6.7 13 9.3
Apr-2013 6.7 13.3 9
May-2013 6.7 13.4 9
Jun-2013 6.6 14.2 9.1
Jul-2013 6.5 12.6 9.4
Aug-2013 6.4 12.8 9.2
Sep-2013 6.3 13 8.8
Oct-2013 6.3 12.8 9.1
Nov-2013 6.1 12.3 8.7
Dec-2013 5.9 11.9 8.3
Jan-2014 5.7 12.1 8.3
Feb-2014 5.8 11.8 8.2
Mar-2014 5.8 12.1 7.9
Apr-2014 5.3 11.5 7.3
May-2014 5.4 11.4 7.7
Jun-2014 5.3 11 7.7
Jul-2014 5.3 11.6 7.7
Aug-2014 5.3 11.4 7.4
Sep-2014 5.1 11 6.8
Oct-2014 4.8 10.6 6.8
Nov-2014 5 10.9 6.6
Dec-2014 4.7 10.6 6.4
Jan-2015 4.9 10.4 6.7
Feb-2015 4.7 10.2 6.8
Mar-2015 4.8 10 6.8
Apr-2015 4.7 9.7 6.9
May-2015 4.8 10.3 6.8
Jun-2015 4.6 9.6 6.7
Jul-2015 4.5 9.1 6.9
Aug-2015 4.4 9.3 6.6
Sep-2015 4.4 9.2 6.2
Oct-2015 4.4 9 6.3
Nov-2015 4.4 9.3 6.4
Dec-2015 4.4 8.5 6.2
Jan-2016 4.3 8.9 5.9
Feb-2016 4.3 8.7 5.4
Mar-2016 4.3 9 5.6
Apr-2016 4.4 8.9 6.2
May-2016 4.2 8.2 5.6
Jun-2016 4.3 8.7 5.9
Jul-2016 4.2 8.4 5.4
Aug-2016 4.3 8 5.6
Sep-2016 4.4 8.3 6.4
Oct-2016 4.3 8.3 5.7
Nov-2016 4.2 7.9 5.7
Dec-2016 4.2 7.9 5.9
Jan-2017 4.3 7.8 5.9
Feb-2017 4.1 8.1 5.6
Mar-2017 3.9 8 5.1
Apr-2017 3.9 7.9 5.2
May-2017 3.7 7.6 5.2
Jun-2017 3.8 7.1 4.8
Jul-2017 3.7 7.4 5.1
Aug-2017 3.8 7.6 5.1
Sep-2017 3.7 7 5.1
Oct-2017 3.5 7.3 4.8
Nov-2017 3.7 7.2 4.8
Dec-2017 3.7 6.8 4.9
Jan-2018 3.5 7.7 5
Feb-2018 3.7 6.9 4.9
Mar-2018 3.6 6.9 5.1%
Apr-2018 3.6 6.6 4.8
May-2018 3.5 5.9 4.9
Jun-2018 3.5% 6.5% 4.6%
Jul-2018 3.4% 6.6% 4.5%
Aug-2018 3.4% 6.3% 4.7%
ChartData Download data

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey, public data series

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The last, but not by any stretch least, measure to watch on Friday is nominal wage growth. In November, nominal wages grew at 2.5 percent over the last year. The figure below illustrates year-over-year nominal wage growth for production/nonsupervisory workers and total private-sector nonfarm employees. The production/nonsupervisory series roughly represents the bottom 82 percent of private-sector payroll employment; over the last several months it’s been running about 0.2 percentage points slower than the overall series, indicative of some growth in wage inequality. The topline series, however, remains below target levels and has been shown no sign of acceleration. Over the last three months, average growth was 2.5 percent. During that same period last year, the year-over-year September through November growth rate averaged 2.7 percent. Then, it appeared like we could be reaching a consistently higher rate of growth—faster than the 2.4 percent we saw for the same months the previous year. Unfortunately, these signs of potential acceleration have been dashed. Wage growth in recent months has been slower on average, below target levels, and certainly provides no concerns over spiraling inflation.

Nominal Wage Tracker

Nominal wage growth has been far below target in the recovery: Year-over-year change in private-sector nominal average hourly earnings, 2007–2018

Date All nonfarm employees Production/nonsupervisory workers
Mar-2007 3.44% 4.11%
Apr-2007 3.13% 3.85%
May-2007 3.53% 4.14%
Jun-2007 3.61% 4.19%
Jul-2007 3.25% 4.05%
Aug-2007 3.35% 3.98%
Sep-2007 3.09% 4.15%
Oct-2007 3.03% 3.78%
Nov-2007 3.07% 3.83%
Dec-2007 2.92% 3.75%
Jan-2008 2.91% 3.80%
Feb-2008 2.85% 3.79%
Mar-2008 3.04% 3.83%
Apr-2008 2.89% 3.70%
May-2008 3.07% 3.69%
Jun-2008 2.67% 3.56%
Jul-2008 3.05% 3.67%
Aug-2008 3.33% 3.89%
Sep-2008 3.28% 3.64%
Oct-2008 3.32% 3.81%
Nov-2008 3.50% 3.91%
Dec-2008 3.59% 3.90%
Jan-2009 3.58% 3.72%
Feb-2009 3.43% 3.65%
Mar-2009 3.28% 3.47%
Apr-2009 3.37% 3.35%
May-2009 2.93% 3.06%
Jun-2009 2.88% 2.88%
Jul-2009 2.69% 2.76%
Aug-2009 2.44% 2.64%
Sep-2009 2.44% 2.75%
Oct-2009 2.53% 2.68%
Nov-2009 2.15% 2.67%
Dec-2009 1.96% 2.50%
Jan-2010 2.09% 2.66%
Feb-2010 2.09% 2.55%
Mar-2010 1.81% 2.27%
Apr-2010 1.81% 2.38%
May-2010 1.90% 2.59%
Jun-2010 1.76% 2.53%
Jul-2010 1.85% 2.42%
Aug-2010 1.75% 2.36%
Sep-2010 1.84% 2.19%
Oct-2010 1.93% 2.45%
Nov-2010 1.79% 2.13%
Dec-2010 1.79% 2.02%
Jan-2011 1.96% 2.28%
Feb-2011 1.83% 2.11%
Mar-2011 1.83% 2.06%
Apr-2011 1.87% 2.11%
May-2011 2.04% 2.10%
Jun-2011 2.13% 2.05%
Jul-2011 2.30% 2.26%
Aug-2011 1.95% 1.99%
Sep-2011 1.94% 1.99%
Oct-2011 2.07% 1.88%
Nov-2011 1.98% 1.82%
Dec-2011 2.02% 1.77%
Jan-2012 1.75% 1.35%
Feb-2012 1.79% 1.45%
Mar-2012 2.14% 1.76%
Apr-2012 2.09% 1.70%
May-2012 1.74% 1.39%
Jun-2012 1.96% 1.54%
Jul-2012 1.69% 1.39%
Aug-2012 1.86% 1.33%
Sep-2012 1.99% 1.54%
Oct-2012 1.51% 1.18%
Nov-2012 1.94% 1.48%
Dec-2012 2.11% 1.69%
Jan-2013 2.11% 1.89%
Feb-2013 2.19% 1.99%
Mar-2013 1.93% 1.88%
Apr-2013 2.01% 1.78%
May-2013 2.14% 1.93%
Jun-2013 2.13% 1.98%
Jul-2013 2.09% 2.03%
Aug-2013 2.26% 2.23%
Sep-2013 2.04% 2.12%
Oct-2013 2.25% 2.37%
Nov-2013 2.20% 2.32%
Dec-2013 1.90% 2.26%
Jan-2014 1.98% 2.21%
Feb-2014 2.23% 2.55%
Mar-2014 2.06% 2.30%
Apr-2014 1.97% 2.40%
May-2014 2.13% 2.44%
Jun-2014 2.05% 2.34%
Jul-2014 2.08% 2.33%
Aug-2014 2.21% 2.43%
Sep-2014 2.16% 2.33%
Oct-2014 2.03% 2.22%
Nov-2014 2.03% 2.26%
Dec-2014 1.99% 1.92%
Jan-2015 2.19% 2.06%
Feb-2015 1.93% 1.66%
Mar-2015 2.22% 1.95%
Apr-2015 2.22% 1.95%
May-2015 2.34% 2.14%
Jun-2015 2.17% 2.09%
Jul-2015 2.12% 1.99%
Aug-2015 2.24% 2.08%
Sep-2015 2.24% 2.03%
Oct-2015 2.52% 2.37%
Nov-2015 2.43% 2.12%
Dec-2015 2.56% 2.51%
Jan-2016 2.55% 2.40%
Feb-2016 2.38% 2.40%
Mar-2016 2.50% 2.54%
Apr-2016 2.61% 2.58%
May-2016 2.44% 2.33%
Jun-2016 2.56% 2.43%
Jul-2016 2.76% 2.62%
Aug-2016 2.47% 2.42%
Sep-2016 2.63% 2.56%
Oct-2016 2.70% 2.36%
Nov-2016 2.57% 2.40%
Dec-2016 2.65% 2.49%
Jan-2017 2.40% 2.35%
Feb-2017 2.72% 2.39%
Mar-2017 2.55% 2.24%
Apr-2017 2.51% 2.24%
May-2017 2.46% 2.33%
Jun-2017 2.50% 2.32%
Jul-2017 2.49% 2.22%
Aug-2017 2.60% 2.31%
Sep-2017 2.83% 2.59%
Oct-2017 2.28% 2.21%
Nov-2017 2.47% 2.35%
Dec-2017 2.70% 2.43%
Jan-2018 2.89% 2.43%
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*Nominal wage growth consistent with the Federal Reserve Board's 2 percent inflation target, 1.5 percent productivity growth, and a stable labor share of income.

Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics public data series

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While payroll employment growth remains solid enough to keep up with population growth and absorb new and returning entrants, the prime-age EPOP and nominal wage growth continue to lag behind the more optimistic unemployment rate. I expect December’s numbers on the economy to confirm the patterns we’ve seen from this year so far. We are getting closer to the pre-Great Recession economy, but still have a ways to go to reach type of economy we experienced in 2000.