April showers: Second straight jobs report misses expectations

After getting off to a fast start in 2018, job creation has slowed even as the economy itself seems to still be gaining. For the second straight month, the BLS reported a miss on expectations for new jobs with only 164,000 added in April after an even weaker March. The unemployment rate dropped below 4% for the first time in nearly 20 years, but there’s a down side to that as well:

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 164,000 in April, and the unemployment rate edged down to 3.9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job gains occurred in professional and business services, manufacturing, health care, and mining.

In April, the unemployment rate edged down to 3.9 percent, following 6 months at 4.1 percent. The number of unemployed persons, at 6.3 million, also edged down over the month.

That’s a maintenance-plus level of job creation, although perhaps a little light on plus. It’s a far cry from the 324,000 added in February when it appeared that corporate tax reform had stimulated heavy investment in expansion of jobs. Revisions have added 30,000 to the combined previous reports of February and March, but the latter still only came in at 135,000.

Furthermore, the drop in the employment rate does not appear to be from job creation, but from a sharp exodus in the workforce in the Household data. That survey is always more volatile than the Establishment survey which produces the job-creation figures, but Household data determines the U-3 unemployment rate. The civilian workforce dropped by 236,000 people and 410,000 were added to the “Not in labor force” category, both far outstripping the jobs added in April. Since February, the workforce number has declined by nearly 400,000, and “Not in labor force” has grown by 732,000. The drop in the labor force will impact the U-3 calculation.

The report missed expectations again, although the three-month average still looks pretty good, Jeff Cox and the crew at CNBC note:

US economy adds 164,000 jobs in April from CNBC.

Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected payroll growth of 192,000 and the jobless rate to drop by one-tenth of a percent to 4.0 percent. The official jobs tally initially showed an increase of an upwardly revised 135,000 in March…

“The expectations were a little bit elevated going into this probably just because last month’s report was a little bit weaker,” said Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist at Allianz Investment Management. “Net-net this was a little bit softer than people were expecting. this goes into a lot of the other data that we’ve been seeing … a little bit of a soft patch.”

The closely watched average hourly earnings number rose by 4 cents, equating to a 2.6 percent annualized gain, a bit off the pace from the previous month. The average work week was unchanged at 34.1 hours.

This is worth watching as part of the political environment:

Unemployment for blacks fell to a fresh record-low of 6.6 percent, down three-tenths of a point.

The AP’s Josh Boak notes another positive trend in the numbers — employers are hanging onto workers longer, and they’re making more money:

Workers in the private sector during the first three months of 2018 enjoyed their sharpest average income growth in 11 years, the Labor Department said last week in a separate report on compensation. That pay growth suggests that some of the momentum from the slow but steady recovery from the 2008 financial crisis is spreading to more people after it had disproportionately benefited the nation’s wealthiest areas and highest earners.

The monthly jobs reports have shown pay raises inching up. At the same time, employers have become less and less likely to shed workers. The four-week moving average for people applying for first-time unemployment benefits has reached its lowest level since 1973.

The trend reflects a decline in mass layoffs. Many companies expect the economy to keep expanding, especially after a dose of stimulus from tax cuts signed into law by Trump that have also increased the federal budget deficit.

For those with jobs already, then, the data looks good. For those needing jobs, it’s not looking bad, but it’s not as good as we’d expect with the economic policies in place. One month doesn’t make a trend, and neither does two, but two misses in a row makes for a tough explanation.

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