Popular Economics Weekly
The job market continues to fluctuate, as job openings rose sharply in June to 6.163 million from 5.702 million in May. Hires, however, fell sharply, to 5.356 million from 5.459 million. This data set can be volatile but the underlying theme is a separation between openings and hiring, says Econoday, which rather than too full employment and higher inflation points to workers who refuse to return to work, unless employers will pay enough to entice them to return.
The number of unfilled jobs rose again to 807,000, whereas the unfilled total had fallen to 194,000 in May, and there were1 million openings the month before. See what I mean?
There is really no inflation to speak of, in fact the looming danger is disinflation (meaning falling inflation), which can lead to outright deflation and falling prices. Economists don’t like falling prices because it could lead to a recession.
That hasn’t happened yet, but interest rates plunged again. The Fed’s preferred Personal Consumption index that measures overall prices is too low.
The main determinant of inflation is the cost of labor, which accounts for approximately two-thirds of labor costs. Though wages have risen slightly of late, it still can’t buck the 2.5 percent annual increase it’s been for years.
“At 4.3 percent unemployment, earnings in theory should be much higher, at least above 3 percent where many believe it needs to be before feeding into overall inflation,” said Econoday last week. “And overall inflation, tracked here by core PCE prices, hasn’t been moving higher either, dipping to the 1.5 percent line.”
That is the meaning of disinflation, and a reason the Federal Reserve will be hesitant to raise their rate another 0.25 percent in their September FOMC meeting. The Prime Rate that controls revolving debt, and even equity line mortgages has already risen from 3.50 to 4.25 percent.
This is while long term Treasury yields continue to drop. The 10-year Treasury yield is now 2.2 percent, which is why the conforming 30-yr fixed rate is still at 3.50 percent for a 1 pt. origination fee. This is what is called a declining yield curve, which means less profits for banks, since they borrow money at a short-term rate, and lend it at longer term rates.
Consumer prices have risen an unadjusted 1.7 percent over the past 12 months, up slightly from 1.6 percent in June. But on a core basis (without food and energy price changes), which is watched more closely by Fed officials, consumer prices remained at a 1.7 percent annual rate, the same rate as in May and June.
So, we have all these job openings that far outnumber hirings, while consumers can’t or won’t push up prices because their incomes aren’t rising enough to boost product costs and so prices.
That is why there are so many unfilled jobs, and such low inflation. Producers would have to boost wages to attract more workers, and they haven’t done so to date. Why? It could be corporations are choosing to use record profits to overpay their executives and stockholders, in effect rewarding themselves, instead of growing their markets.
That is not what all corporations choose, of course, but we know the 7 million total of unemployed and part time workers that want to work fulltime hasn’t changed in a long time, according to the Labor Bureau—which is why economic growth is still stuck at 2 percent. Economists have yet to come up with a better answer, and many workers have answered such employers with their refusal to return to work.
Harlan Green © 2017
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