The number of new jobs created in November was a disappointing 210,000, down from an upwardly revised October figure of 546,000. Economists had been expecting about 500,000. However, the unemployment rate declined by 0.4 percent to 4.2 percent. The statistics were gathered before the new Covid variant became news, and fear of illness has been a persistent drag on the number of people going back to work.
One anomaly in the new reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is that, while the employer survey showed a gain of only 210,000, the household survey reported that 1.1 million more people were working and that 600,000 had entered the labor force. While the two surveys often diverge in the short term, they always converge in the longer term. Another sign that the labor market is in better shape than the raw numbers show is the fact that the week before last had the lowest number of new applications for unemployment benefits in 50 years. It ticked up slightly this week.
Wages rose by 4.8 percent in November, as employers, competing for scarce labor, offered better wages and benefits, such as sign-on bonuses and even tuition assistance. Just how scarce labor is right now is obvious from the number of “We’re Hiring” signs at just about every shopping center in the country. But the inflation rate, the highest in 30 years, gobbles up those wage gains.
When asked about “transitory inflation” this week, Fed chairman James Powell told a congressional committee that he would be retiring the word “transitory.” Interest rates are likely to go up next year as the Fed reduces its asset purchases and seeks to tamp down inflation.