EPI News

Underlying labor market trend still murky after May jobs report

EPI economist Heidi Shierholz analyzed this morning’s release of the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Employment Situation report.

Today’s employment report showed 69,000 jobs were added in May. After a strange winter and early spring—in which unseasonably warm winter weather led to unusually strong job growth in January and February that was “paid back” with weaker job growth in March and April—even the May report may not yet provide a clear picture of the underlying trend. The May jobs figures are likely still being weighed down by seasonal issues, as evidenced by a drop in construction and in leisure and hospitality. Thus, these numbers should not yet be read as a sign of a slowdown. Even so, payroll employment growth is nowhere near strong enough to get us to full employment anytime soon.

The household survey was somewhat more optimistic. Though the unemployment rate rose, it was due to the fact that more than 600,000 people entered the labor force, boosting the labor force participation rate by two-tenths of a percentage point. While there is significant month-to-month variability in the labor force participation numbers (and this increase could simply be a correction for April’s decline), it is nevertheless a step in the right direction.

“Missing workers” mean the unemployment rate is understating weakness in the job market

One of the best measures for assessing recent labor market trends is the employment-to-population ratio of 25- to 54-year-olds, or the share of the age 25–54 population that has a job. Using this measure ensures that trends are not being driven by retiring baby boomers or increasing college enrollment of young people, but are instead caused purely by changes in job opportunities. This week’s Economic Snapshot shows the share of employed workers between ages 25 and 54 plunged dramatically from the start of the Great Recession through the fourth quarter of 2009, and then, for nearly two years, hovered around this low level. It is only since fall 2011 that the ratio has begun to show signs of improvement.

Click here to find out what this tells us about the economy’s health.

Proposed changes to Social Security would result in hardship

The new briefing paper Can workers offset Social Security cuts by working longer? examines the argument that most workers can offset cuts by working longer—and finds that increasing the retirement age and other proposed cuts would impose significant hardship on many older workers. EPI economist Monique Morrissey and Syracuse University professor and Strengthen Social Security Coalition co-chair Eric Kingson reveal the claim does not reflect the realities confronting many older workers, which include health problems, caregiving responsibilities, lack of suitable work, and unemployment. They also find that the share of workers at risk of hardship is much higher than previous studies have claimed—and may be close to half of older workers. Click here to learn more.

Influencing the discourse

EPI’s research and analyses on the state of the labor market, current wage and income trends, and the impact of proposed budget policies on working families were cited by a number of influential writers, including New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Fiscal Times contributing columnist Merrill Goozner, Washington Post business reporter Peter Whoriskey and columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel, and Bloomberg Businessweek’s Chris Farrell.

What’s happening at 1333 H Street?

On June 6, EPI will host a forum sponsored by the Global Workers Justice Alliance examining the U.S. temporary foreign labor system. At the event, a new report will be released that comprehensively analyzes the many guestworker programs in place. The panelists will then discuss how these programs result in the exploitation of foreign workers and the undermining of employment prospects for both immigrants and native-born U.S. workers. The forum is free, but please register here.

Take Back the American Dream

EPI is a proud partner of the “Take Back the American Dream”conference that will be held June 18–20 in Washington. Progressives will gather to discuss and advance ideas benefiting the interests of the 99 percent. Click here to register!

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