NEW YORK, 6 JULY: The latest monthly unemployment report from the US Department of Labour confirmed that the world’s largest economy is on the road to recovery. Not only were the figures for June better than many had hoped for, but, crucially, estimates for jobs growth in previous months hadn’t been positive enough.
The upward revisions in the data for April and May, higher by a combined 70,000, drove up the average for the three months to June to a healthy 196,000. That’s very close to the rate that economists believe the USA needs to maintain to get better.
Good news? Yes, broadly. But the underlying data paints a more mixed picture. First, the really good news: what the June report, which showed an expansion in payrolls of 195,000, said about the all-important American consumer.
The gains were driven by the private sector, as government payrolls deal with the pressure of spending cuts. Manufacturing didn’t fare well but employment in the leisure and hospitality industries was strong, climbing by 75,000 last month. That means the sector has been adding jobs at an average rate of 55,000 per month in 2013 ~ a marked improvement on 2012, when it averaged 30,000 per month. Gains were strong in food services and drinking venues. The figures for that sub-sector were up by 52,000 last month.
Then there were the numbers on the retail trade, up by 37, 000. Dealers of cars and car parts hired 8,000 additional people in June, wholesalers added 11,000, while employment in building and garden stores was up by 9,000 (no doubt a reflection of the stimulus-driven strength in the housing market).
All this bodes well for the health of the consumer ~ a critical driver of US growth. The recruitment suggests that consumers are willing to spend in restaurants and shops, and that brightens the outlook for the coming months.
But further out, what kinds of jobs are being created? Here the data isn’t as upbeat as the headline numbers might suggest. As the pace of growth in jobs improves, it’s useful to think twice about the industries driving the figures. And in the leisure and hospitality sector, and in the retail industry, we are talking about the highest-paid jobs.
As the overall unemployment rate steadied at 7.6 per cent last month, the "U6 rate" jumped to 14.3 per cent from 13.8 per cent. What is the U6 rate? It’s a broader gauge of unemployment that includes people who, in bureaucratic parlance, are "marginally attached" to the labour force, as well as those who are employed part time for "economic reasons".
In English, the first group includes those who have looked for jobs but haven’t found suitable work, while the second group covers people whose hours might have been cut, or who have looked for full-time jobs without success.
The June jobs report was clearly positive; the trend is improving, slowly but surely. But it’s not all good news, because even as things get better, the report shows how the crisis appears to have changed the complexion of the job market.
And that’s something to bear in mind when considering the longer-term prospects of the world’s largest economy.