Latest U.S. Jobs Report: Slow Growth Mode Reloaded
It's the first Friday of the month, and that means the U.S. Bureaus of Labor Statistics has posted October's employment report. The overall jobs count for October saw an increase of 271,000, about 134,000 jobs (almost 50 percent!) more than the preceding month. This also beats the 230,000 month-to-month average we've seen over the last 12 months by 41,000 jobs (almost 18 percent).
While August numbers were revised upward from 136,000 jobs to 153,000, September numbers were reduced by 5,000 from 142,000 jobs to 137,000. The average over just the last three months is thus a pretty paltry 187,000 new jobs per month, even factoring in these much-improved October figures. That's below the 12-month average of 230,000 by 43,000 jobs (19 percent), about the same level that the October numbers are above the 12-month average.
What does it all mean? Alas, it means that this last month's numbers could just as easily be a momentary spike as they could be the beginning of a new upward trend in employment. The true trend will be even harder to pick out of the numbers for November and December.
Those months also accommodate the holiday shopping season, and are traditionally times of the year when employment trends upward anyway, to reflect seasonal hiring of workers for part-time retail or other shopping (and shipping) related jobs. The October bounce, however, is certainly is a sign of welcome economic health and well-being, however temporary it may turn out to be.
Looking further into the numbers, the biggest gains occurred in the following sectors:
? Professional and business services were up by 78,000 jobs for October, 16,000 higher than the 12-month average of 52,000 for this sector. Within this sector, administrative and support services added 46,000 jobs for the bulk of the gains, plus 10,000 for computer systems design and related services, and another 8,000 for architectural and engineering services.
? Health care, a strong and often leading sector for years now, added 45,000 jobs for October, about 4,000 more tha the 12-month average of just over 41,000 jobs. Within this sector, ambulatory health care services added 27,000 jobs, with hospital positions also spiking by 18,000 positions.
? Retail, the "holiday season" sector, added 44,000 jobs, 19,000 higher than the 12-month average of 25,000. Within the sector, clothing and accessories stores added 20,000 jobs, general merchandise added 11,000, and automobile dealers 6,000. It's not unreasonable to speculate that many if not most of these positions might be holiday-related.
? Food services added 42,000 jobs, about 11,000 higher than the 12-month average of over 30,000.
Sectors that lost jobs include construction (down by 31,000, usually a sign of decreased building activity in the colder months of the year) and mining (down 5,000, as employment in this dangerous and sliding sector continues to decline).
The remaining sectors — namely manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, and government — were largely unchanged as compared to the preceding month.
Wages are still more or less stagnant, up by 2.5 percent over the past 12 months. While this may sound (and is) pretty low, current U.S. inflation rates according to the U.S. Inflation Calculator are at 0 percent (no inflation at all), so this actually shows real, if modest, growth in wages and should be of some help to consumers and the middle class.
If there's a trend in any of this data, I'd like to see true wage growth continue and improve, which will help the real engine of our economy — consumer spending — finally begin to increase and improve.
I still don't think it's time to break out the champagne and the party hats. (Those will remain locked away until I can honestly wirte the word "sustained" into one of these employment posts.) The October recap is encouraging, however, a little something worthy of a modest toast to some small success. Let's hope it continues and accelerates as we move into 2016!