Jan 13, 2020 - Economy & Business

Unemployment fell to 50-year low in 2019 but wages stagnated

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
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Data: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

Friday's jobs report missed expectations, but still delivered solid numbers, showing the U.S. economy added well over 100,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remained near a 50-year low.

The big picture: BLS reported that the number of people who were employed part time but would rather be full-time employees declined by 507,000 over the year.

  • The number of people who wanted to find a job and had looked but couldn't and had given up, fell by 310,000 in 2019.
  • The number of discouraged workers fell by 98,000.
  • The U6 unemployment rate, which includes these categories of workers, fell to 6.7% in December, a new cycle low and the lowest in at least a quarter century.
  • Wages for production and nonsupervisory workers rose 3% in December

The other side: The wage increases for production and nonsupervisory workers had hit a decade high of 3.6% in October, showing a glaring deceleration to December.

  • Overall, wages grew 2.9%, which was the lowest level in a year and a half and well below the 2018 average of 3.3%.
  • “It’s easier to get a job than a raise in this economy,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, told the New York Times.

Between the lines: The average work week fell to 34.3 hours per week — indicating a lack of demand for labor at what should be a high-demand time of year.

  • DRW Trading rate strategist Lou Brien also points out that the last time the unemployment rate was this low, in 1969, "the annual wage growth for the production and non-supervisory workers was above six percent, more than double the current level."
  • "To say the least, the current level of wages does not suggest stiff competition for workers."

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