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Expand chart

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

57 mins ago - Health

WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release"

A medical syringe and vial with fake coronavirus vaccine in front of the World Health Organization (WHO) logo. Photo Illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Top scientists at the World Health Organization on Friday called for more detailed information on a coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

Why it matters: Oxford and AstraZeneca have said the vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses. AstraZeneca has since acknowledged that the smaller dose received by some participants was the result of an error by a contractor, per the New York Times.

Court rejects Trump campaign's appeal in Pennsylvania case

Photo: Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post via Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Friday unanimously rejected the Trump campaign's emergency appeal seeking to file a new lawsuit against Pennsylvania's election results, writing in a blistering ruling that the campaign's "claims have no merit."

Why it matters: It's another devastating blow to President Trump's sinking efforts to overturn the results of the election. Pennsylvania, which President-elect Joe Biden won by more than 80,000 votes, certified its results last week and is expected to award 20 electoral votes to Biden on Dec. 12.

Dave Lawler, author of World
3 hours ago - World

Belarus dictator Lukashenko says he'll leave post after new constitution

Photo: Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty

Longtime Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has said he will step down after a new constitution comes into force, according to Belarusian state media.

Why it matters: Lukashenko has faced three months of protests following a rigged election in August. He has promised to reform the constitution to reduce the near-absolute powers of the president, but has insisted that his strong hand is needed to see that process through.