According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2017 the U.S. added 2.1 million new jobs — roughly 100,000 fewer than 2016. The fact is, the number of jobs has increased every month for seven consecutive years.
Which begs the question: why is everyone talking about jobs, higher wages, and a robust economic turnaround? Is this fake news
The BLS (part of the United States Labor Department) has been collecting and analyzing employment statistics since 1915. At the present time, the BLS samples 160,000 businesses and agencies on the number of jobs added (or cut), wages paid, and hours worked — then breaks this information down by state, age, gender, and other key demographics. After 102 years, the BLS has their procedures down to a science and faithfully makes their findings available to the public every month like clockwork. According to the BLS, regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat occupies the Oval Office, the numbers are the numbers. And that’s that.
But not all numbers are created equal. That’s why reputable economists are compelled to look at more than jobs figures. For example, in spite of producing fewer new jobs in 2017 than the year prior, U.S. unemployment fell more than a half a percent. Almost a million previously unemployed Americans found work. The lowest unemployment rate since 2002 (4.1 percent) appears to be holding steady.
The BLS also reports that 639,000 part-time employees who wanted full-time work got their wish in 2017 — not only in terms of additional hours, but also in terms of more take-home pay. The average hourly wage grew by 65 cents (2.5 percent) in 2017 — a hair above inflation. Given an 86-month streak in adding new jobs to the economy, experts expected labor shortages to push wages much higher in 2017. But that’s beginning to look like a simple delay. Recent pay raises (and bonuses) announced by Walmart, AT&T, Bank of America, U.S. Bancorp, Comcast, and others, indicate a sign of things to come.
Another important indicator is the number of off-shore jobs returning to the United States. According to the Reshoring Initiative, a record 77,000 jobs were re-shored in 2016. In the first quarter of 2017, that number averaged 40,000 per quarter, and by second quarter jumped to 50,000. (The total number for 2017 has yet to be released.)
There are also measurements which remained unchanged between 2016 and 2017. The average number of hours Americans work was largely constant. The same goes for the number who gave up searching for employment.
These are the stats. These are the facts. Not as good as the White House wants us to believe. Not as bad as Trump’s critics assert. When it comes to the state of the U.S. economy, both sides are cherry-picking data. Both are exaggerating. Both are misleading the public.
Based on the data we have today, the only reasonable conclusion which can be made is that the U.S. economy is slowly improving. The changes the average citizen is experiencing are not as spectacular as those we see on Wall Street. Staying slightly ahead of inflation is nothing to celebrate. By the same token, there’s no denying Americans are better off today than they were a year ago — with the possible exception of healthcare costs. And while some will argue that gains made in 2017 were merely a continuation of a recovery which began in 2010, I see no benefit in belittling progress of any kind. Just as I see no benefit in overinflating Trump’s record. One undermines our collective optimism. The other sets unrealistic expectations.
Why not let the numbers speak for themselves? The data may not be as definitive as we’d like, and the improvements not as substantial, but the U.S. economy is making progress: the number of new jobs continues to grow, unemployment remains low, the number of part-time workers who want full-time work is down, take-home pay is up, and reshored are jobs up. This is good news for Americans who value steady forward motion over fast fixes and erratic swings. Who are satisfied the country is pointed in the right direction. Who are content with a factual basis for hope. Leave it at that.
Rebecca D. Costa is an American sociobiologist and futurist. She is a world-renowned expert in the field of “fast adaptation” in complex environments. Costa’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, SF Chronicle, The Guardian, etc. Her first book, "The Watchman’s Rattle A Radical New Theory of Collapse," was an international bestseller. Her follow-on book, titled "On the Verge," was released in 2017. For more information visit www.rebeccacosta.com. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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