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Business

What can you expect from the job report





Minneapolis
CNN

The latest monthly jobs report, set for release at 8:30 a.m. ET, is expected to show the U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in December, with the unemployment rate holding steady for a third straight month at 3.7%.

The Labor Department’s latest monthly employment numbers for 2022 are likely to bring some familiar story lines.

— Job growth is expected to remain robust, although slower than the breakneck pace of historically high job gains in the early stages of the post-pandemic economic recovery.

— Employees are still not returning to hard-hit sectors such as leisure and hospitality, public services and childcare.

— The strong labor market, while keeping the economy moving, is a little too consistently strong for the Federal Reserve’s need to reduce inflation by curbing demand.

— The tight labor market needs more workers, and wage growth still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, which will help quell fears of a wage-price spiral, when higher wages cause price increases which in turn lead to higher wages.

Lather, rinse and repeat.

“The preponderance of evidence suggests that the labor market is still nowhere near normal,” said Julia Pollak, senior economist at online job marketplace ZipRecruiter.

The U.S. labor market remains uncharacteristically tight — something that was reinforced Wednesday when the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its November Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report. It showed there were still north of 10.5 million vacancies, or about 1.7 vacancies for every unemployed person looking for work.

The survey also showed that what has been considered “the great resignation” is still raging, Pollak said. During the Covid-19 pandemic, a record number of workers quit their jobs voluntarily in search of greener pastures – be it better working conditions, higher wages or increased flexibility.

The number of people per month who leave their jobs has now exceeded 4 million for 18 months in a row. In the two decades leading up to the pandemic, the monthly average was 2.6 million.

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“Companies still struggle with major retention difficulties,” Pollak said.

The last JOLTS did not show that the market was about to loosen as perhaps some had hoped or expected. But it provided a window into some of the divergence occurring at a time when some businesses are hiring more to meet consumer demand, while others are scaling back operations due to bloat, the ripple effects of high interest rates or preparations for less fertile economic times ahead.

Industries such as lodging and food services reported 50% fewer layoffs in November than were seen on average between 2000 and February 2020, Pollak said.

“I think most of it is just pre-pandemic recovery,” she said. “Leisure and hospitality are still in short supply for hundreds of thousands of workers and only increasing, because expenses recovered faster than staffing.”

As of October 2022, the leisure and hospitality sector remained below pre-pandemic employment levels by more than 1 million jobs, or 6.3%, according to a CNN Business analysis of BLS employment data.

Technology companies have accounted for the lion’s share of the announced job cuts in recent months. During the pandemic, as people were relegated to working and spending their money from home, technology and e-commerce companies rallied to meet the demand.

Through 2022, technology was the leading job-cutting industry, with 97,171 reductions announced, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas’s latest job cut announcements report released Thursday.

Overall, the decline in 2022 rose by 363,824 compared to 321,970 the previous year. There were 43,651 job cuts announced in December, a 129% jump from December 2021, according to the report.

But the job cuts announced in 2022 were the second lowest on record, going back to 1993, Challenger, Gray & Christmas data showed. In 2019, 592,556 cuts were announced.

“The overall economy continues to create jobs, although employers appear to be actively planning for a downturn,” Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in the report.

If the monthly job gain comes in as expected on Friday, it would mean the economy added more than 4.5 million jobs in 2022.

That would be the second-highest annual total on record, behind the massive 6.7 million gains in 2021, which itself was a pendulum swing from a record 9.2 million job losses in 2020, BLS data show.

“The Federal Reserve would like to see one [monthly job growth] numbers closer to 100,000 or below, says Nick Bunker, director of economic research for North America at Indeed Hiring Lab. “It’s more in line with a clearly cooling job market.”

Drivers wait in traffic during the morning rush hour commute in Los Angeles, California on February 23, 2022

Economists also expect average hourly earnings growth to slow on a monthly and year-over-year basis, to 0.4% and 5%, respectively, according to Refinitiv.

Wage gains, even if inflation outpaces it, remain well above the pre-pandemic average and beyond what the Fed wants to see in its price-gouging campaign. Chairman Jerome Powell, while acknowledging that the wage increases did not push inflation to the highest levels in 40 years, has repeatedly noted that sustained wage growth in such a tight labor market could keep inflation high.

“This is a set of labor market data that for workers and jobseekers, [continued, strong nominal wage growth] that’s very positive news,” Bunker said. “But for central bankers, they see this as a problem.”

Inflation has started to fall in recent months, with key gauges showing declines. But for the Fed to reach its desired target of 2% inflation, the labor market will have to take a hit, with unemployment rising to around 4.6% this year, according to the central bank’s projections released in December.

“The fact that inflation appears to be cooling without the labor market taking a significant hit is a sign that much of this very high inflation was not driven by the labor market and that it is possible for inflation to come down from these levels without that the labor market hits, Bunker said.

“But it’s unclear how far inflation can fall without the labor market worsening, or rather, it’s not clear what the underlying rate of inflation is with the labor market so tight.”

— CNN’s Matt Egan contributed to this report.



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