The headline number from the June jobs report was impressive, with nonfarm payrolls increasing by 850,000, which easily beat expectations. The leisure and hospitality sector once again led the way, as restaurants and bars alone added 194,000 jobs. Meanwhile, total employment in April and May was revised upward by a combined 15,000 jobs.
And while headline unemployment rose from 5.8 percent to 5.9 percent, the so-called U-6 unemployment rate—which measures the share of workers who are unemployed, marginally attached to the labor force, or working part time for economic reasons—fell from 10.2 percent to 9.8 percent.
At the same time, the long-term-unemployment share—that is, the portion of the unemployed who have been jobless for 27 weeks or longer—went back up in June, from 40.9 percent to 42.1 percent. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had not been that high since 2012.
As for wages, average hourly earnings grew by 3.6 percent compared with a year earlier. “The June gain,” observed CNBC’s Jeff Cox, “puts the jobs market ahead of its previous pace; average hourly earnings rose 3% in February 2020 year over year at a time when lower-earning workers finally had been seeing gains after a generation of stagnant paychecks.”
Some analysts, such as New York Times economics correspondent Neil Irwin, cheered the headline jobs number but lamented the ongoing worker shortage.
“Great gains in payrolls, but essentially no progress evident in the household survey,” Irwin tweeted. “No improvement in participation rate or employment-to-population ratio. Still waiting to see a bigger labor force re-entry.”
That strikes me as too pessimistic. While the overall labor-force-participation rate did not budge, this partly reflects the continuing retirement of the baby boomers. The participation rate among people aged 25 to 54 increased significantly, rising from 81.3 percent to 81.7 percent. The prime-age employment-to-population ratio increased as well, albeit by a smaller amount (from 77.1 percent to 77.2 percent).
Still, both figures remain well below their pre-pandemic levels. For that matter, the U.S. economy as a whole remains about 9 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic trend line, according to former Obama White House chief economist Jason Furman.
“Going forward,” tweets Furman, “the two big questions are: 1. Labor supply and labor demand should both continue to increase, but what pace and what relative magnitude? 2. Do we get all 9m jobs back?”