JOLTS Report Suggests Workers Holding Out for Higher Pay

Financial FAQs

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Graph: Econoday

“For the first time in nearly 20 years of existing records, the number of job openings, at 6.698 million in April, is exceeding the number of unemployed actively looking for work, at 6.346 million in April (subsequently falling in last week’s employment report to 6.065 million in May),” said Econoday on Tuesday’s release of the Labor Department’s JOLTS report.

Also, the gap between openings and hires in the JOLTS report, at 1.120 million, is the second largest on record next only to March’s 1.147 million, reported Econoday.

The gap suggests employers are having a hard time finding people to fill the jobs. That is the understatement of the year. There are still 6 million working adults not happy; who are either looking for work or who work part time but want fulltime work, as I reported in the May Unemployment Report.

It means in fact employers will have to pay more to fill those job vacancies. The full name of the JOLTS report is Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, which also measures the Quits rate, the percentage of workers voluntarily leaving a job. And that is at the high end in this cycle, which means more are quitting and probably finding better-paying jobs.

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Average hourly earnings are still rising just 2.7 percent per year, when they should be in the 3 to 4 percent range at this late stage of the recovery. That’s barely above the Fed’s preferred Personal Consumption Expenditure price inflation figure of 2 percent. Workers’ wages are barely keeping up with rising prices, in other words, hence they are extremely stretched and borrowing more than they are spending.

Hence, the record job openings. Those openings aren’t enticing enough to bring more workers back into the workforce. And that is of major concern; as tax revenues aren’t even close to covering the added federal debt of more than 2.2 trillion over the next 10 years according to the latest analysis of the recent tax cuts.

Consumer spending on consumer goods in April is picking up for a second straight month, pointing to a pickup in the U.S. economy in the spring. Spending jumped 0.6% after a revised 0.5% gain in March, the government said Thursday. But that is at the cost of drawing down their savings to dangerous lows.

Several Wall Street firms upped their GDP forecasts due to the spending uptick, but consumers’ personal savings rate dropped to 2.8 percent, only the third time since 2009 to drop below 3 percent.

Amherst Pierpont Securities raised its estimate of second quarter GDP growth to 4.5 percent from 4.2 percent. Macroeconomic Advisers increased its forecast to 4 percent from 3.6 percent. Barclays also upped its estimate, but it was near the low end of forecasts, raising its Q2 target to 3.3 percent from 3 percent.

GDP has only topped 4 percent three times since the end of the Great Recession in mid-2009; mostly due to the very poor growth in household incomes since its end in mid-2009. Why don’t corporations raise their workers’ wages enough to fill some of those job openings, even with the recent huge tax cut windfall? That’s a story for another time.

But we know what causes recessions, and depressions. Roosevelt’s Fed Chairman Marriner Eccles spelled it out in the 1930s:

“As mass production has to be accompanied by mass consumption, mass consumption, in turn, implies a distribution of wealth … to provide men with buying power. … Instead of achieving that kind of distribution, a giant suction pump had by 1929-30 drawn into a few hands an increasing portion of currently produced wealth. … The other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When their credit ran out, the game stopped.”

Harlan Green © 2018

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of PopularEconomics.com, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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