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There’s still room to grow for the labor market, at least according to the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Markets Committee.
The FOMC has used everything from wages to the labor force participation rate to argue that there could be more job growth in the US, leading the Fed to delay interest rate hikes until they see the labor market strengthen further.
But, with the labor force adding the most new entrants over a six-month span in decades and wages showing signs of life, the Fed has pivoted to new measures.
According to the FOMC’s minutes from the March meeting, there are a few new measures that the Fed is looking towards to determine how well the labor market is doing, as noted by Bespoke Investment Group’s George Pearkes.
“They noted several indicators other than the unemployment rate that pointed to remaining underutilization of labor resources; these indicators included the still-high rate of involuntary part-time employment and the low level of the employment-to-population ratio for prime-age workers,” said the release (emphasis ours).
Both of these measures are still well off their pre-crisis levels and 30-year averages.
People working part-time for economic reasons would prefer a full-time job, but could only find part-time work. in the last jobs report, around 6.1 million workers fell in this category. This is down from a high of over 9 million in September 2010, but well above the 4.2 to 4.7 million range prevalent from 2001-2007.
Similarly, the employment-to-population ratio for prime age workers, which measures the proportion of people age 25 to 54 with jobs, is also doing poorly. In fact, its current level of around 77.2% of prime age workers employed is lower than in any pre-crisis month since June 1986.
FOMC members also highlighted wages. “The surprisingly limited extent to which aggregate data indicated upward pressure on wage growth also suggested some remaining slack in labor markets,” said the minutes.
So, based on these measures, there is plenty of room for the labor market to improve, which helps justify the Fed’s decision to keep rates low.