The labor market is continuing to climb in a positive direction with the addition of 313,000 new jobs in February, detailed a federal report Friday.
The U.S. economy has strengthened considerably in the last few years following an unusually sluggish economic recovery. The last year saw increased confidence in the economy with those gains appearing to be picking up. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found in its latest monthly jobs report that the trend continued with 313,000 new jobs.
“Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 313,000 in February, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.1 percent,” the report stated. “Employment rose in construction, retail trade, professional and business services, manufacturing, financial activities, and mining.”
The job growth rate in the latest report is well above where it has been recently. Job growth over the last year has typically been closer to 200,000 with a few exceptions. The labor force as a percentage of the total population also grew by 0.3 after being stagnant since October.
The unemployment rate over the last several months has remained at its lowest point since 2000. The low rate has become one of the more consistently positive labor market trends in recent years. It is also likely creating more demand for labor which is ultimately good for workers because companies have to compete for them.
“The BLS reports for the last year have been looking really good,” ZipRecruiter chief economist Cathy Barrera told InsideSources. “2017 was a good year for the labor market in terms of jobs added month to month and our very low unemployment rate that we have reached.”
How much workers are being paid has remained a concern despite the positive trends elsewhere. The problem is a low unemployment rate typically leads to increased wages because of the higher demand for available workers. Barrera notes it might just be a delay as businesses adjust to the tighter labor market.
“We would really like to see the wage rate come up from where it was in 2017,” Barrera said. “The wage growth rate doesn’t automatically respond to changes in the unemployment rate. This happens because there are actual people making decisions on the ground.”
The BLS report found that average wages increased by four cents and now sit at $26.75 for the month of February. Barrera hopes that businesses will start to respond as the labor market becomes even tighter – meaning the pool of available workers is even less than it is now.
The business community also looks for consistency when making decisions like whether to expand. Employers look to ensure sudden economic and policy changes aren’t going to undermine potential investments. While the economy has been showing positive signs – political tensions and worrisome proposals have made the future less clear.
“One of the things that has caught our eye recently was the uncertainty that has come with the government shutdown,” Adzuna jobs data insight expert Becky Barr told InsideSources. “When there is a high level of uncertainty in the market you have a lot of people pulling back on hiring.”
Adzuna is a company that provides online job search resources. It’s based in the United Kingdom. The company operates in 16 countries worldwide with operations expanding into the United States six months ago.
Former President Barack Obama started to see steady improvements across the economy in his final few years. His administration oversaw an unusually long economic recovery throughout his presidency which followed a severe economic downturn now known as the Great Recession.
President Donald Trump entered office early last year with the promise he would help workers who felt left behind during the economic recovery. His push to deregulate and lower tax rates appears to be helping as employers invest more in their business and employees. Critics have countered the gains are primarily due to what Obama was able to accomplish before leaving office.
The labor force participation rate has also remained another concern with how many people are currently out of the labor market. The rate tracks the number of employed and those actively seeking work as a percentage of the total population. It fell considerably since the economic downturn before bottoming out near the current rate of 63.0 percent.
The low participation rate can be partly blamed on a large population of retirees and student adults. But there are still plenty of working age adults out of the labor force. The employment-to-population ratio for prime-age adults has shown a lot of improvement but still hasn’t reached its pre-recession levels.
Trump has also proposed a $1.5 trillion project to update and fix the national infrastructure and create jobs. The plan would involve $200 billion in federal funds alongside investments from the private-sector and local governments. Barrera warns the difference in available workers across the country could become a problem.
“There is actually quite a difference between geographies in respect to the ratio between labor supply and demand in construction,” Barrera said. “There are some places where there is a great labor shortage. On the other hand, the unemployment rate overall in this particular industry is higher than the national average.”
Barrera adds that the difference might indicate that there isn’t a lot of mobility in construction. That means workers in the industry might be less willing to move to where construction jobs are. She notes that it will be important to see how the details work out – like where the investments are actually made.
The economy has improved in other ways over the past year as well. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a primary measure of economic growth, remained fairly strong throughout much of last year with two-quarters of above 3.0 percent growth. GDP for the final quarter of last year did slow down some with just 2.5 percent growth. The stock market has also shown very positive gains recently as well.
President Trump has also looked to reform immigration and trade in ways that prioritize domestic workers. But those efforts have sparked concern from some business leaders and economists. They have urged the administration to not significantly reduce legal immigration or pull out of trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).