Despite a wildly gyrating stock market, employers added 312,000 jobs to America’s employment statistics in December — about twice the number the experts expected.
The unemployment rate ticked up from 3.7% to 3.9%, in part because 142,000 people quit their jobs and started looking for new ones.
Those statistics fly in the face of the stock market antics and a prolonged U.S. trade war with China.
Some economists believe the continued hiring boom also suggests that fears of a looming economic recession are largely overblown.
The latest jobs report is (mostly) good news for workers. Such a low unemployment rate means that nearly every American who wants to work, and is able to work, should have been hired by now.
And those who lose their jobs, or decide to leave, won’t have a hard time finding another position.
The lingering problem, however, is the U.S. workers haven’t seen their paychecks get much bigger.
The multiple weeks of partial government shutdown is causing great anxiety among the 800,000 federal government workers who aren’t being paid while the bills continue to fill their post office boxes.
The Trump administration announced late Friday night, that it would freeze a pay raise for Vice President Mike Pence, members of the Cabinet and other high-ranking political appointees in light of the shutdown.
In December, private sector workers (excluding farm workers) got an average 11-cent hourly raise, adding to an average hourly pay rate of $27.48.
That tiny bump reflects the slow wage growth that has plagued the economy in recent years. In the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have only increased 84 cents, or 3.2%, and that doesn’t even take inflation into account.
Most of the new jobs created are in health care, construction and the restaurant industry.
Over the past year, prices rose, so paychecks had to stretch further. When the 2.2% inflation rate is taken into account (based on the Consumer Price Index), workers’ wages only grew about 1% within the past year — a pathetic amount compared to the skyrocketing payouts to corporate CEOs.
Frustration over stagnant wages is also the major underlying factor behind widespread workers’ strikes across the country in places like California, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
In addition, congressional Republicans promised that their massive corporate tax cuts would help the average worker, but the gains have been meager.
It’s the American code that most of the members of each new generation should be more prosperous than most of their parents are. But we’re not seeing that shibboleth become a widespread reality yet.