The U.S. added 266000 jobs in November 2019

This is a strong gain that offered a counterpoint to renewed anxieties over trade and a weakening global economy.

By guest author Patricia Cohen from New York Times

The Labour Department’s report was much stronger than the one last month, helped in part by the end of a General Motors strike.

The Takeaway: A Reassuring Report Eases Fears

The return of tens of thousands of striking workers to their jobs at General Motors helped supercharge hiring totals last month.

The reassuring jobs report, released Friday morning by the Labour Department, offered a counterpoint to renewed anxieties about an escalating trade war and a weakening global economy.

“I think that this report is a real blockbuster,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the career site Glassdoor. “Payrolls smashed expectations.”

Revisions added another 41000 jobs to September and October’s employment figures. And a broader  measure of unemployment, which includes part-timers who would prefer full-time jobs and people who are too discouraged to look for work, inched down to 6.9 %.

Average monthly payroll gains for the past three months reached 205000, a hefty number for the 11th year of an economic expansion.

Stocks rose following the report, with the S&P 500 up by about one percent at noon.

The  health of the manufacturing sector has been somewhat clouded by the 40-day G.M. strike this fall and disruption in the aerospace industry stemming from the crash of two Boeing airplanes. Friday’s report showed a gain of 54000 jobs in that sector, reversing last month’s losses, but it did not signal a significant upturn.

“Manufacturing is still flat after you pull out the returning strike numbers,” Mr. Zhao said. “It’s still suffering from headwinds from the trade war, but at least it’s not worsening.”

The labour market’s hearty performance offers President Trump something he can brag about after he fielded criticism this week for fuelling trade tensions with Argentina, Brazil, China and European allies. In Congress, Democrats laid out a plan that could result in an impeachment vote before the end of the year.

Many Americans, though, are more focused on expanding payrolls and fatter paychecks, and in that respect, Mr. Trump has delivered. “It’s the economy, stupid,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter just before the report’s release.

The Wage Picture: ‘Beginning to Regain Momentum’

Mr. Zhao noted that given the record-low jobless rate, wage growth over all remained stubbornly slow, and that year-over-year growth has dropped in recent months. 

Robert Rosener, an economist at Morgan Stanley, was more sanguine, citing revisions to some previous monthly estimates as evidence that annualized wage growth is “beginning to regain momentum.”

“I think it’s hard not to feel good after getting a jobs report like this,” he said. “The labour market is continuing to provide the key foundation for the U.S. economy.”

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits also remains at historically low levels, and Americans are continuing to show a willingness to quit their jobs.

For the Federal Reserve, the latest report offers another reason to hold off on raising the benchmark interest rate, Mr. Rosener said. The long expansion is pulling workers back into the labour force, and that is “something that Fed policymakers indicated they wanted to lean into,” he added.

The competition for workers has also pushed up wages, particularly at the lower end of the scale.

And Amazon’s decision last year to raise its minimum wage to USD 15 across the country has turned up the pressure in some places.

“Everyone is struggling now to keep up with Amazon,” said John Dickey, who owns two Express Employment agencies in Massachusetts.

One company he works with, a light manufacturer in the chemical and food industry, is looking to hire 30 people for jobs that pay USD 14 to USD 15 an hour. “This company does drug tests and background tests, and it requires 12 hours on your feet,” he said. “And you need to be able to speak and communicate in English.”

Employers routinely complain about their inability to find reliable workers, but Mr. Dickey acknowledged that many of the available jobs could be less than desirable.

“These can be pretty rough working conditions,” he said, pointing to the food industry, where people can spend a lot of time in refrigerated warehouses or near industrial ovens. “It’s cold, it’s hot, it’s wet, the floors are slippery, so there tends to be a fair amount of turnover,” he said.

The Labour Market as a Toothpaste Tube

In a newsletter this week, David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds, compared recent hiring to squeezing one more glob of toothpaste out of a seemingly empty tube. “Over the last few years,” he said, “an apparently fully tapped-out labour market has yielded a surprising number of new workers.”

The buffet of available job postings has drawn many Americans back to work. Employers have widened their scope, recruiting people with disabilities or criminal records. Older baby boomers are working past retirement age and stay-at-home parents are switching to paid employment.

The labor force participation rate inched up through most of the spring and fall, driven in part by an increase in women 25 to 34 getting jobs or starting to look for work. Over the last year, nearly 1.7 million people joined the ranks of workers.

Mr. Kelly does not expect the historically low unemployment rates to fall much more. “Gains in employment going forward will have to come from an increase in the labor force,” he wrote.

Economists are engaged in a vigorous debate about how tight the labor market is and how many more people are available to work.

A worker at LB Steel in Harvey, Ill., manufactures a wheel assembly known as a “bogie” to be used on the new Amtrak Acela trains (all graphs and this caption are a courtesy by New York Times)

Employment agencies say they are often unable to find candidates to fill the jobs that are open. “At every level of employment, it’s been super tight,” said Yvonne Rockwell, owner of an Express Employment Professionals agency in Santa Clarita, Calif. “I truly believe that anybody who wants to work is working.”

Southern California has a lot of aerospace companies, and Ms. Rockwell focuses on skilled trades and higher-level positions. “This is our best year ever,” said Ms. Rockwell, who opened her franchise five

The clamour for more workers may make it easier for people who want to turn temporary holiday jobs into permanent ones. Historically, about 4 percent to 7 percent of seasonal workers are hired, said Amy Glaser, senior vice president of the staffing firm Adecco. This year, she expects that 20 percent could be retained after the New Year.

Middle-Income Jobs Can Be Hard to Find

Diane Swonk, chief economist for the accounting firm Grant Thornton, noted that while manufacturing was lagging, the service sector was strong.

“We’re getting a lot of the gains in leisure, hospitality and health care,” she said, adding that the increases in professional services indicated more hiring of college graduates, which had softened slightly over the summer.

Still, despite the low unemployment rate, stable, secure jobs that pay a middle-income wage can be hard to find across a range of skills.

Alan Kirshner worked as a budget analyst at Bristol Myers Squibb in New Jersey for 18 years before a restructuring eliminated his job in 2015.

“My goal was to find something more permanent like I had in the past,” he said, “but those opportunities were much more limited.” Companies have used technology to reduce staffing, shifted full-time workers to contracts and often moved the better-paying jobs out of the country or to lower-cost areas in the United States.

Mr. Kirshner is now a career coach — a business that he controls, but that offers no steady income or benefits.

Researchers have often documented bias against workers over 50 and minorities, especially African-American women.

Trade Tensions Heighten Anxiety

The White House’s unpredictable trade policy has unsettled some businesses and cramped investment. They have also helped heighten concerns about a faltering manufacturing sector.

“When you look globally, there are some tentative signs that the global manufacturing slowdown is bottoming out,” Michael Gapen, chief United States economist for Barclays, said. “But it may take the U.S. manufacturing sector a little longer than the rest of the world to stabilize.”

A trade agreement with China would, of course, be welcome, but Mr. Gapen said that at this point, he did not expect that it would help lift growth. “It’s more of a going back to the beginning,” he said, noting that in the end, China is likely to commit to agricultural purchases that it might have made earlier without tariffs.

The government will revise its November estimates two more times, and its October estimate once more.