The JOLTS data for November came out this morning, and as RealityChek regulars know, I track it closely because Fed chair Janet Yellen views it as the best gauge of the American labor market’s health.
But as regulars also know, I dig deeper than she and her (humongous) staff seem to in order to find out how many of the job openings reported each month (along with hires and layoffs) are in positions that most Americans would want to hold. So I’m pleased to report that today’s figures contained some good news: Openings for low-wage jobs as a share of total actually fell off for the second straight month. For the moment, that reverses the more discouraging trend that’s held firmly since the last recession began just over eight years ago.
The low-wage totals can be calculated by adding up two categories clearly measured in the data – the retail sector and the leisure and hospitality sector – and then estimating the low-wage total inside the very large and diverse professional and business services sector. A reliable figure can be produced by assuming that the number of low-wage openings within this category is equal to the number of total professional and business services jobs represented by positions in its low-paying administrative and support services sub-sector.
For November (the latest data available), low-wage openings represented 32.67 percent of total job openings. That’s down from the 33.13 percent figure for October and from 33.74 percent in September. (The November figure will be revised at least once more, so the trend could still be even shorter-lived than it seems.)
At the same time, all these levels are still higher than those that have generally characterized the post-recession period. When that downturn began, in December, 2007, low-wage job openings accounted for 30.56 percent of the total. When the recovery got underway, in June, 2009, their share had fallen to 29.94 percent.
If American employers keep upping the share of better and better-paying jobs they’re offering to American workers, the nation could start taking seriously the notions that the economy is steadily recreating itself as a knowledge-oriented machine, and that the long-wounded labor market really is starting to heal. So far, however, anyone believing these propositions either isn’t looking at the facts, or measures such progress according to an unacceptably low standard.