October Jobs Report: More Monotonously Slow But Steady Progress

I was so absorbed with post-election stuff that I totally forgot today was the first Friday of the month, meaning it’s Jobs Report Day. And the news was pretty much what we’ve gotten used to this last year: strong net jobs growth with a steady if not dramatic downward pull on the official unemployment rate and a mixed picture of employment data under the hood. Here’s the take from the New York Times‘ Patricia Cohen:

Only days after many voters complained that the economy was getting worse, the latest government report on jobs, released Friday, provided fresh evidence that it was getting better. Employers added an estimated 214,000 jobs in October, the Labor Department found, and the official jobless rate, bolstered by a big rise in the number of people finding jobs, dropped to 5.8 percent, down sharply from 7.2 percent last October.

The increase, combined with a revision that showed 31,000 jobs were added to the numbers previously reported for August and September, puts the average monthly employment gain for the past six months at 235,000 — an indication, analysts said, that the economy’s progress was gaining momentum.

A range of other job measures all improved. More than 683,000 people reported that they found a job last month, according to a separate survey by the Labor Department. And the number of people walking away from the labor market has halted, while the average number of hours worked ticked up.

But as always, there’s the big shadow on even the sunniest jobs reports:

The primary disappointment was the lack of wage growth. Hourly average earnings have remained stuck, rising only 0.1 percent in October, on the heels of no gain in September. For the year, wage gains are up just 2 percent, barely ahead of the pace of inflation. That lack of progress is likely to cause the Federal Reserve to move cautiously before raising interest rates from their near-zero level.

It’s why we need to get deadly serious about a wage-growth agenda, as laid out so admirably by Alan Blinder in the new issue of The Washington Monthly.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.