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Note: The chart adjusts for workers receiving higher or lower wages in a new job; Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; analysis by Jed Kolko / Indeed.com; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

The U.S. has the very picture of a squeaky-tight jobs market, according to government figures released today: Unemployment at a 17-year low — at 4.1%, a top-line jobless figure just a tick away from the classic, 4% definition of full employment; seven straight years of jobs growth; and longer job searches — those lasting 15 weeks or longer — now only 1.5% of the work force, down from 2% a year ago.

Yet wage growth — one of the key underlying factors in last year's political earthquake with the election of Donald Trump — worsened last month (see chart). According to the law of supply and demand, employers should be sharply bidding up wages in order to capture increasingly scarce workers. But they aren't — and in fact, by the numbers, you might say they defiantly aren't. In October, they raised wages just a tad over inflation, at 2.4%, a plunge from September's already-miserly rate of 2.8%.

The background: Jed Kolko, chief economist for Indeed.com, the jobs-listing website, tells Axios that wages are sluggish because there are more idle workers out there than is apparent by the statistics. Just 79% of the prime-age work force, aged 25 to 54, is actually working, he says. Much of those — 43% — are people, mostly women, who say they are caring for kids or other family. Another 30% are disabled or otherwise unable to work. The remainder have other reasons for being idle, such as attending school or retiring early.

  • No one knows how many of those might be enticed into the work force by higher wages, but it's a chicken-and-egg question. If Kolko is right, employers somehow have a sense that they can wait out the situation and either hire only slowly, or attract workers without raising salaries. But the workers aren't giving in, either.

Thought bubble: We hear a constant squawking about an employee-and-skills shortage from companies of various types. What we do not see is many of these companies doing much about it, such as offering training programs or — as reflected in the monthly Labor Department figures — raising wages to attract workers to the jobs.

Go deeper: As a result of the plunge in wage growth, traders today reduced their bets on the Fed increasing the interest rate to tamp down potential inflation, as is reflected in a drop in the value of the U.S. dollar, the FT reported.

Also in the FT, fruit and vegetables are rotting in fields in the U.K. because of a labor shortage there.

Go deeper

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 p.m. ET: 11,662,574 — Total deaths: 539,058 — Total recoveries — 6,336,732Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 p.m. ET: 2,948,397 — Total deaths: 130,430 — Total recoveries: 924,148 — Total tested: 36,032,329Map.
  3. States: Arizona reports record 117 deaths in 24 hours.
  4. Public health: Trump administration invests $2 billion in coronavirus drugs.
  5. Business: Breaking down the PPP disclosure debacle
  6. World: Brazil's President Bolsonaro tests positive for coronavirus — India reports third-highest coronavirus case count in the world.

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Why it matters: Trump was furious when he found out recently that Mary Trump, a trained psychologist, would be publishing a tell-all memoir. And Trump's younger brother, Robert, tried and failed to block the publication of "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man."

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