After the initial jubilance that followed last week’s employment report, Wall Street economists are having a second look at the data. Their conclusions are not quite as rosy.
The rapid decline in the U.S. jobless rate in recent months – from 9.1 percent last summer to 8.3 percent in January – has caught forecasters by surprise given the rather soft pace of underlying economic growth. Steve Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho, says a shrinking U.S. labor force helps explain the apparent discrepancy.
The fact that the employment-to-population ratio has not moved since September even as the jobless rate has fallen by 0.7% suggests that this improvement is a statistical mirage. The fact that the labor force participation rate has also declined by 0.4% during this four month period is another warning that the jobless rate is improving for the wrong reasons. This more realistic look at the data suggests that over-thinking the jobs data will lead to investor disappointment in the months ahead.
Indeed, the labor participation rate has plumbed new depths, as Sven Stehn at Goldman Sachs points out:
The January employment report revealed that demographic changes had pushed down the labor force participation rate – the share of the working-age population working or looking for work – even more than previously reported, hitting the lowest point since 1983 at 63.7%.