The long-term unemployed and underemployed in the U.S. — two numbers closely watched by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen — were looking like dwindling armies in June. Yet the reasons behind those declines tell us not to get too carried away.
Americans who have been out of work for at least 27 weeks, as a share of total jobless, plunged to 25.8 percent for the biggest one-month drop in records dating back to 1948. June also marked the sixth consecutive decline — the longest streak since 1984.
The rate of underemployment — including those working part-time who want a full-time gig and those not in the workforce who would take a job if it were available — dropped to the lowest since July 2008:
Still, data showing how Americans are transitioning in and out of the labor market — so-called "flows" for those of us in the economy nerdosphere — were a less positive story in June.
The number of unemployed who threw in the towel and dropped out of the workforce rose by 141,000 (after three decreases).
And those who weren't in the labor force and decided to jump back in and look for a gig dropped by 243,000 (also after showing three months of progress) to 2.08 million, the fewest in seven years. Here are those folks:
The number of those who transitioned from not in the labor force straight to employment (think school-age kids who take a summer job) also fell, by 74,000 in June.
This all tells Ryan Sweet at Moody's that wage growth will be needed to convince more workers to come off the sidelines. Average hourly earnings were tepid in June, rising 2 percent from a year earlier to match the average during the expansion.
"Wage growth is mediocre at best — we need much stronger wage growth to bring in this large number of people who are out of the labor force but want a job," he said. "They're not going to come back in until they see wage growth accelerating. If you pay them, they will come."
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