I’m not sure why the economics and investment world seems pretty uninterested in the new figures released this morning on labor turnover in the U.S. economy. After all, as RealityChek regulars know, these are among the favorite labor statistics of prominent labor economist – and Federal Reserve Chair – Janet Yellen. And she has a lot to say about how low or high interest rates will be, and therefore about how vigorous or weak the current historically feeble recovery will become. Maybe it’s the dog-days-of-August syndrome?
What I am sure of is that the level and makeup of the job openings reported in the new “JOLTS” data leave plenty of room for debate over a key question overhanging the economic progress America has made since the Great Recession: Have hiring and opportunity been too concentrated in low-income sectors?
There’s no doubting that the share of job openings recorded in today’s release in low-wage sectors* is higher (32.17 percent, for June) than it was when the recession began at the end of 2007 (31.94 percent). But it’s not that much higher. This percentage, however, is much higher than it was when the current recovery began, in the middle of 2009 (28.38 percent). So over the longer haul, the “low-wage recovery” story remains intact.
Yet does this trend show more recent signs of ending, or at least moderating? That’s what the new numbers leave so unclear. For example that 32.17 percent figure for June (which is preliminary) is much lower than May’s final 33.30 percent. But the May number was revised up from its original 32.53 percent.
The initial June figure is also much lower than that of June, 2015 (33.67 percent) or June, 2014 (32.60 percent). But the comparable May numbers don’t tell a clear story. They fell from May, 2014 to May, 2015 (33.50 percent to 32.34 percent). But then they rose to that 33.30 percent this May.
It’s a good rule of thumb when examining data that the strongest (underlying) trends are revealed by looking at the longest time periods. But it’s also true that “things change,” and that the kinds of fluctuations seen over the last two years could be signs of a top – just as they sometimes (but only sometimes) are in stock prices. For now, it seems that the firmest conclusion we can draw is that more of the real picture will be revealed by the next set of JOLTS figures, which we’ll get next month. Unless of course it isn’t!
*These sectors are retail, leisure and hospitality, and the administrative and support services subsector of the big professional and business services sector.