Terry H. Schwadron
There was a lot of attention yesterday on the government’s monthly release of good job results: The country added 235,000 jobs last month, dropping the unemployment rate that 45 disparages to 4.7%. The President tweeted an immediate smile, and a round of seemingly overly over-exuberant pundit nods followed.
Can we add some context?
- The increase was higher, but in line with that of recent months. Indeed, expectations for the number released were around 200,000. So, to a certain extent, the numbers reflect a continuing, slow improvement in the economy — regardless of who sits in the White House.
- The first 50 days of Team Trump has been devoted to efforts to making us a pro-business economy. The improved job numbers reflect a rise in consumer confidence, a booming stock market and the promise of new infrastructure jobs.
- The weather was mild, and appropriately watchful businesses, particularly construction firms, added the biggest number of these jobs. As always, construction jobs necessarily are “temporary.”
- Hovering over all of this is a pending Federal Reserve vote to increase (again) interest rates, which may counteract some of the job-building effects in coming months.
- Little of these gains have much to do with talking companies into staying in the U.S. or returning jobs that had moved overseas. Indeed, they reflect job decision-making made in the fall. These numbers don’t reflect the reductions in federal employment expected to take hold.
- Uncertainty figures in, too. Despite desires for a more pro-business environment, there still is uncertainty for many employers about what health care bill will finally pass the Congress, about the promise of unseen tax cuts, and the uncertainties of a general world situation.
Much of the attention is about the politics and optics of it all — is Mr. Trump’s primary concern for job creation working? I prefer to worry about the actual jobs.
Let’s go to the actual Bureau of Labor Statistics report rather than the television pundits: Employment gains occurred in construction, private educational services, manufacturing, health care, and mining. The report says most jobs went to whites rather than minorities, that there was no change among jobs going to women vs. men, and that the number of long-term unemployed jobseekers did not change statistically over the month.
Within these jobs numbers, here’s a further breakdown by type. Construction increased mostly in “specialty” contractors, a trend over the last six months. Private education services and manufacturing, mostly food and machinery manufacture, followed, with health care jobs close behind. There were some increases in mining, but it was in “support activities” rather than mining.
Professional and business services continued to add, while retail jobs edged down after gains the previous month. Jobs in wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government, showed little or no change over the month.
Last week, a survey by payroll company ADP, a survey which often helps show where job numbers are going, had suggested that nearly 300,000 jobs were added last month, a figure that Team Trump immediately trumpeted as validation for their campaign of eliminating regulations and promising to crush corporate taxes. Well, that report was wrong by a mile.
The job numbers are good and should be celebrated, but the important thing to see here is that they are neither wildly out of line for the positive and a continuation of what’s been happening before Team Trump. Average hourly earnings inched up to reflect a 2.8% increase, maybe six cents an hour, over a year ago. Good, we’ll need it to pay for health care policies.
The BLS does not track how easy or difficult it is to fill jobs, though others do survey employers for that. Recruiters continue to say specific job categories, including advanced coding jobs, technology and others are very hard to fill. There are more jobs opening for semi-skilled jobs like cashiers and lower-pay jobs. More wage additions are in cities rather than in rural America — a target for Trump job-building.
And, of course, these kinds of data don’t look at job skills. The President has attacked the use of these BLS jobless numbers over time as masking much wider unemployment. Now that there are favorable numbers, he said he feels more charitable about them.
I welcome the job numbers, but I cannot help think that I know plenty of people who are facing layoffs or looking for work. I cannot help but think that decision-making in Washington is going to destroy jobs in nonprofits and the arts, in retail and manufacturing.
And I keep wondering whether those coal-mining jobs are going to return to Trump’s America.