Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The U.S. jobs market, having long been the bedrock of the nation's economic expansion, is starting to worry economists ahead of next week's payroll data.

What's happening: After years of remarkably smooth sailing, 2019 has brought market volatility and some concern about whether the economy can keep adding jobs at a fast enough pace to sustain the expansion.

What we're hearing: Job gains don't necessarily have to turn negative to signal trouble, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, told Axios at a labor market conference hosted by payroll processor ADP this week.

All that's required is a strong slowdown in job growth. A 0.5% increase from a cyclical low on the unemployment rate has accurately predicted every recession in recent history and has never been a false positive, as Brookings economist Claudia Sahm noted recently.

  • "Once unemployment starts to rise, even from a very low level, it undermines confidence, and the only difference between an expanding economy and a recessionary one is faith," Zandi said.
  • "A recession is a collective loss of faith, and people lose faith when they start seeing unemployment rise."

Why now? A slowdown is not that unlikely, given the state of the labor market. The unemployment rate is at a 50-year low — it was 3.6% in May — and employers are reporting more trouble finding people to hire.

  • In a poll of small business owners conducted in May, 25% said that finding qualified workers was their No. 1 problem, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.
  • The trade war also is adding stress to the economy, but so far the effects have been concentrated in the trade and export sectors, which make up a small piece of overall employment.

What to watch: The all-important services side of the economy has been strong, but is beginning to feel the impact of the tight labor market, said Ahu Yildirmaz, co-head of ADP Research Institute. The number of job openings exceeded the number of unemployed Americans by the largest margin on record in April.

  • "Let's remember you need approximately 100,000 net new jobs to keep the economy moving. We're still above that level, however there are so many other factors," she said.
  • "If you look at the last couple months, the jobs numbers were really, really volatile."

The bottom line: Another blowout print like January's, which showed 312,000 jobs added, will calm a lot of jitters.

Go deeper

Updated 1 min ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 11,317,637 — Total deaths: 531,729 — Total recoveries — 6,111,910Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 2,852,807 — Total deaths: 129,718 — Total recoveries: 894,325 — Total tested: 34,858,427Map.
  3. States: Photos of America's pandemic July 4 ICU beds in Arizona hot spot near capacity — Houston mayor warns about hospitals
  4. Public health: U.S. coronavirus infections hit record highs for 3 straight days.
  5. Politics: Former Trump official Tom Bossert says face masks “are not enough”
  6. World: Mexican leaders call for tighter border control as infections rise in U.S.
  7. Sports: Sports return stalked by coronavirus
  8. 1 📽 thing: Drive-in movie theaters are making a comeback.
4 hours ago - Sports

Sports return stalked by coronavirus

Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Austin Meadows bumps elbows Friday during a workout at Tropicana Field. Photo: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports via Reuters

When MLB teams arrived at the ballpark this weekend for the first summer workouts of 2020, the comforting sounds of baseball brought smiles to players' faces.

Between the lines: Even the loudest crack of the bat couldn't mask the eerie silence or distract from the ever-present coronavirus threat.

4 hours ago - Health

239 scientists call on WHO to recognize coronavirus as airborne

People walk at the boardwalk in Venice Beach. Photo: Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images

A group of 239 scientists in 32 countries is calling for the World Health Organization to revise its recommendations to account for airborne transmission as a significant factor in how the coronavirus spreads, the New York Times reports.

The big picture: The WHO has said the virus mainly spreads via large respiratory droplets that fall to the ground once they've been discharged in coughs and sneezes. But the scientists say evidence shows the virus can spread from smaller particles that linger in air indoors.