The Corner

Something’s Missing from This Month’s Jobs Report

Last month, the news from the October jobs report was not that the economy added 142,000 jobs that month, but that wages grew rapidly, too: by 11 cents per hour, following 8 cents in September. That may not sound like an incredible amount, but that translates into 3+ percentage wage growth in a given year — well above inflation.

But, I said, people lauding this wage growth should remember that it is still not especially spectacular, and that it would need to be sustained for a number of months to represent a real boom. Lo and behold, while the economy again added a respectable but not incredible number of jobs (178,000 positions) in November, we didn’t sustain the encouraging level of wage growth.

In fact, hourly earnings for all employees fell three cents this month (they rose 2 cents for non-managers). 

What’s important is not that tiny shift, exactly — these measurements are not immune to error and one weak month of wage growth is not going to derail the recovery.  But it does suggest that people got a little overexcited in October, when it looked like wages were growing at 3–4 percent. That’s not going to happen if, some months, wages shrink a bit or don’t grow at all. In fact, this month’s number was enough to drag down the past year’s average wage growth  from 2.8 percent to 2.5 percent.

And 2.8 percent, as I said after October’s report, was nothing amazing: It’s not even as vigorous as the level of wage growth we got during the economic expansion that preceded the 2008 recession (though inflation was higher then).

Cheerleaders of the Obama economy treated last month’s number as a trend that’s likely to continue — and, while it might indeed continue, it didn’t do so in November. The last spike at the end of the chart here is the level of wage growth over the past 12 months that people had gotten so excited about — it ticked back down, from 2.8 to 2.5 percent, this month rather than continuing to rise. 

The level it’s at right now, as you can see, is not particularly amazing — it needed to stay at that level for some time, or, better, keep going up.

Here’s hoping that it does, and that this month is a blip. Indeed, there is reason to be optimistic: The labor market ought to continue tightening, as jobs are added at a decent clip. One place that might happen is construction: The sector has added 59,000 jobs over the past three months, mostly in construction. Wage growth there is slightly outpacing the economy overall, but eventually employers are going to have a hard time finding construction workers, and wages should keep rising there. 

The bottom line: Wage growth is happening, but after years of barely being there at all, it’s still not blowing the doors off.

Patrick Brennan — Patrick Brennan is a writer and policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was Director of Digital Content for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, writing op-eds, policy content, and leading the ...

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More