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Yesterday’s official U.S. report on job turnover reenforced two important messages that have sent by lots of recent economic data: first, that the nation’s growth rate really has slowed dramatically this year; and second, that the CCP Virus- and lockdowns-led Great Resignation is ebbing significantly. And not surprisingly, these developments look related.  

The job turnover report, (whose jazzy acronym is JOLTS – Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) takes the story up through June, and shows that the number of vacancies that U.S. private sector employers say they want to fill, preliminarily hit its lowest (9.766 million) since last September’s 9.680 million. Moreover, it’s down 9.67 percent since their peak of 10.275 million from last November. (As known by RealityChek regulars, data focusing on the private sector, whose performance is driven mainly by market forces, reveal more about the economy’s true health than data that include government workers. After all, the public sector’s performance is driven mainly by politicians’ decisions.)

Additional economic slowdown (and even recession) signs: This calendar year so far, when the official statistics on gross domestic product (GDP – the standard measure of the economy’s size and how it changes) have shown two consecutive quarterly drops (a popular definition of recession), private sector job openings are off by 5.58 percent.

Private sector job openings, though, are still a whopping 57.64 percent higher than in February, 2020 – the last full data month before the pandemic and ensuing mandatory and voluntary curbs on economic activity began distorting and roiling the economy. So labor market conditions are still far from having returned to their pre-CCP Virus norm.

In even more important relative terms, a similar though more modest pattern appears as well. The private sector job openings rate – which adds total employment figures and openings figures, and then divides them by the number of openings – hit seven percent in June. That was its lowest level since the previous June’s 6.8 percent, it’s fallen for three straight months, and it’s declined by 6.45 percent during the first two (recession-y looking) quarters of this year. And as with the absolute number of job openings, the openings rate remains much (52.17 percent) higher than just before the virus arrived in force.

The Great Resignation claims have held that the CCP Virus pandemic and resulting curbs on individuals’ economic behavior led unprecedented numbers of Americans to leave the workplace for good – regardless of whatever subsequent ups and downs the economy will wind up experiencing.

The private sector quits numbers contained in each JOLTS report provide some support for idea that this Great Resignation is fading already – but only some. That’s because so many Americans who leave their jobs voluntarily seek and get more desirable jobs. They do, however, buttress the slowdown/recession narrative pretty effectively.

In the private sector in June, job leavers totaled 3.999 million – a decrease of 3.96 percent during this possibly recession-y year, the lowest level since last October’s 3.884 million, as well as the first sub-four million number since then. They’re also down 6.26 percent from their CCP Virus-era high (last November’s 4.266 million.

And although the many more Americans still are leaving their jobs each month than just before the pandemic’s arrival in force, this increase is a not-jaw-dropping 22.86 percent – and of course it’s falling

The private sector quits rate has been drifting down, too. As of June, it was 24 percent higher than in immediate pre-pandemic-y February, 2020 (3.1 percent versust 2.5 percent). But it’s 8.82 percent lower than its peak (3.4 percent last November) and has dropped 6.06 percent so far this calendar year – suggesting that a slowing economy has reduced workers’ confidence that that better job will be there for the asking.

Also throwing cold water on permanent Great Resignation claims – though barely whispering “recession” so far – are the federal government’s two measures of the share of Americans actually working. Both the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) and the Employment to Population Ratio (EPOP) helpfully provide figures for the entire economy (though their definitions are somewhat different), and for different segments of the population (including age groups). So both shed unmistakable light on the Great Resignation question with data sets for the 55-year old and over cohort. (Don’t forget, though, that neither measure separates out public and private sector workers. So the following results apply for the “civilian noninstitutional population.)  

Yet both measures reveal that the share of Americans either at or near retirement age holding jobs has shrunk during the pandemic era – by 4.22 percent for the LFPR and 4.32 percent for the EPOP. But both measures also show that the current percentages who are employed is at the high end of the range of results since 1948, and well within their post-2000 ranges.

In other words, the percentage of these older Americans in the workforce (38.6 percent as of this June according to the LFPR and 37.6 percent according to the EPOP) was steadily shrinking from 1948 (when these data sets begin) through about 2000, and then grew healthily till the CCP Virus came along (by about 25 percent for both the LPFR and EPOP). Once the worst of the pandemic, it edged back up to long-term normal levels, and may only be leveling off or inching down in the last few months because of the current slowdown or recession – not because of any underlying changes in older Americans’ views of work.

Unfortunately, though, because employment levels are one of the economy’s most conspicuously lagging indicators (due to most business’ tendency to view layoffs as a last resort in the face of worsening prospects), we’ll need to wait further to justify a more definitive recession call from the LFPR and EPOP results. Here, the most useful measures are probably those tracking the so-called prime age (for employment purposes) population – the 25 to 54-year olds.

And labor force participation for these folks is actually up by 0.49 percent so far in this seeming period of economic shrinkage. The EPOP is off, but by a modest 0.87 percent. 

Significantly, going forward, I suspect that the growth slowdown and at least quite possible recession will weaken the Great Resignation further – especially since the income supports provided by the Covid relief measures have stopped.  What I also suspect, however, is that the jobs seniors will once again keep seeking won’t enough to secure their financial futures. 

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