The U.S. economy added a whopping 321,000 jobs in November, one of the best months of this recovery, and continuing a streak of jobs growth that’s been noticeably better than the dismal overall pace of this recovery. The unemployment rate stayed steady at 5.8 percent, however, as the other survey the government uses to look at jobs growth (the “household survey”) didn’t find much growth at all. There was some okay news there, though: The labor-force-participation rate held steady, as it has over the last year.
As Joseph Lawler of the Washington Examiner points out, November’s jobs number brings the total number of jobs added this year to 2.65 million, the most added any year since 1999. (This month’s numbers are subject to revision for a couple months and are often considered unreliable, but they’re not that unreliable. And revisions have been trending up, in fact: Both September and October were revised up noticeably today.) That is impressive but it also doesn’t mean we’re seeing 1999-level jobs growth: The labor force and, to a greater extent, the entire working-age population, is noticeably larger than it was in 1999.
And yet, despite a streak of good news in the jobs market, big problems remain: Wages finally rose in November, after months of tepid or nonexistent growth (average hourly wages rose 9 cents to $24.66). But over the year, they’ve still risen in nominal terms just 2.1 percent — above the rate of inflation, but just barely. A lot of economists argue that’s because significant “slack” in the labor market remains: Even as the unemployment rate is dropping, there are lots of people on the margins of the labor market who can join and dilute the competition for workers.
There are much more detailed ways to look at this, but to see just how little the labor market has recovered in one sense, here’s the share of the U.S. adult population that’s employed (part- or full-time):
As you can see, it’s finally ticking up, barely, and this doesn’t adjust for the aging of the U.S. population. This looks at just the share of prime-age workers, which has risen more quickly, but not that much more quickly:
And that improvement has come as wages have stayed stagnant, of course — wages were growing at a steady clip in both the late ’90s and mid- to late 2000s.