Column | Americans back to work, but at lousy jobs
Continuing the recent upward labor market trend, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that last month’s payrolls rose by a seasonally adjusted 228,000, beating Wall Street’s 200,000 prediction.
Lots of hoopla surrounded the November report, and on-air analysts could hardly contain themselves. But, they should know better. Few jobs among the newly created would spur employees to buy a new high-end vehicle or book a Hawaiian vacation. In fact, coveted, breadwinning, salaried jobs with benefits are a rarity.
But if job seekers are hoping to land a hotel receptionist, bartending or table-waiting gig, the new norm is crackerjack. Unfortunately, those hospitality jobs average only 26.1 weekly hours, and earnings are a paltry $21,000 annually. Waiters and bartenders hit a new all-time high of 11.8 million in November, an increase of 18,900 for the month.
The over-emphasis headline writers and television broadcasters give to the monthly BLS data is understandable since the average Americans who make up their audience know little about the mechanics of the jobs report. Matt McDonald, a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based Hamilton Place Strategies explains. McDonald dismisses the idea, which candidate Donald Trump advanced at least 19 times according to The Washington Post, that the data is rigged. For example, the much touted 4.1 percent unemployment rate, the lowest since 2000, excludes the 95 million people who have been job searching so long that the BLS ignores them in its monthly calculations. That, and not cooking the books, is why the unemployment rate is so low.
Widely divergent interpretations should be expected in an estimate of millions in the working population. The key word: estimate. The BLS counts all jobs as the same. And for the head of household who needs to moonlight, when he finds his second job, that’s considered a new job –or a “job added” in the official lingo. Further muddying the waters, two surveys go into making one report. The so-called headline report comes from a survey of 150,000 companies and government agencies; the unemployment rate is determined from 60,000 households.
If indeed the economy is on fire and producing so many good jobs, as analysts and the White House maintain, then millennials with their college diplomas should be gainfully employed. Instead 20 percent of 26 to 34 year olds, those in prime working years, live at home or with relatives, a significant bump from 2017’s 17 percent. Pew Research found that millennials are the largest living generation in the U.S. population, 79.8 million in 2016. But for those who don’t live at home, more households headed by a millennial live in poverty than any other generation.
Amidst the reams of labor data that the federal government compiles monthly, economists found one bright spot. The Department of Labor reported that in November 64,000 fewer working-age immigrants, legal and illegal, lived in the U.S. in 2017 than in 2016, a statistic that directly affects American employment.
Part of the immigration decline is attributable to tougher interior enforcement, and part to a slow-down in illegal immigration. Regardless of the reason behind the immigrant population decline, it’s good news for American workers. More low-paying jobs will be available for the struggling who need employment of any kind.