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November Labor Figures: Employment Brightens, Labor Tightens

November Labor Figures: Employment Brightens, Labor Tightens

By: John Rossheim

The government’s November Employment Situation Summary is a mixed bag for employers, with 211,000 net new jobs and fewer workers looking hard. Many working Americans appear to still be seeking something more secure, while others have abandoned the labor market, at least for the time being. 

Here’s how the numbers break out.

According to November labor figures, there are still 2 million long-term unemployed Americans (out of work for 27 weeks or more), but that’s down three-quarters of a million compared to a year earlier. 

Some people have found work (give them an A for persistence); others have given up and are no longer job seekers. With labor continuing to tighten, more employers are likely to give a second look at resumes that show impressive accomplishments interrupted by a big gap or two.

Meanwhile, the number of part-time workers rose for economic reasons by 319,000 to 6.1 million in November, following declines in September and October. Why so many involuntary part-timers? The Affordable Care Act’s mandate that sizable employers offer health coverage – but only to those who work 30 or more hours per week – is likely one major reason. Advisor Perspectives points out that the part-time workforce is currently larger than before the Great Recession.

Part-time is also a strategy that many employers have learned to love — because a substantial part-time force typically enables them to increase labor use on short notice without the added costs of hiring or paying overtime rates. The question is whether such a strategy will build employee loyalty or boost employer brand.

And then there are the Millennials. With all the talk about whether college is really worth it for young people in the 2010s — given that many seem destined to begin their post-graduate careers in low-level service jobs — the numbers tell the same old story: The more education you have, the more likely you are to avoid unemployment

Some 5.4 percent of high school graduates of any age with no college were unemployed in November, whereas only 2.5 percent of four-year college grads were reported jobless. Yet scads of educated young people are seriously underemployed. These Gen Y and Gen Z workers will need to fill the workforce gap as Baby Boomers retire. 

On to pay. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.3 percent. This relatively modest increase says a lot about the bottom line on labor supply and demand; if workers were in a position to demand bigger raises, they would. One silver lining for employees: Inflation has been super-low, just 0.2 percent for the entire year ending in October. So in theory, workers who have received average increases are bringing home a bit more purchasing power compared to a year ago. Which can only help the economy in the long run.