We try to remain if not always optimistic, certainly realistic and clear-headed in the face of conflicting evidence.The numbers say one thing; the people in our WorkSource Centers say something else. We know that as far as the U.S. Department of Labor is concerned, the Great Recession is over, has been since somewhere in 2009. We know that jobs are coming back, too slowly perhaps, but 295,000 new jobs in February is nothing to sneeze at. That's an average of 288,000 new jobs over the last three months according to the Wall Street Journal which had forecast a gain of 240,000 new jobs and unemployment rate of 5.4% in February.
This is encouraging news ... unless you happen to be one of those people who do not have a job, but you want one. We further know there are still far too many people who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. They are classified as the long-term unemployed and their numbers are hovering around 2.7 million people. We also know that the encouraging numbers must be tempered by the fact that individuals continue to leave the labor force. These people want to work, but have essentially given up on finding a job, so they are not counted in the labor force within in the unemployment tally.
The overall participation rate - representing those who either have a job or want one - is 62.8%. Here's the Wall Street Journal's take on that:
"(The participation rate) remains near levels last seen in the late 1970s, in part due to baby boomers reaching retirement age. A stronger labor market could also draw discouraged workers who had given up on their job searches back into the mix. So far, there’s little sign that’s happening."
With the national unemployment rate at a Great Recession low of 5.5% and with the number of added jobs increasing steadily, much of the discussion is turning now to wage growth, or lack thereof.
Average hourly earnings for private-sector workers ticked up to $24.78 for February, a 2% increase over Feb. of 2014, but not a sign that the supposedly recovery economy is keeping pace. Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said that there are "perhaps hints" of wage growth, but no increases of significance.Speaking in the L.A. Times, Gus Fauchner, senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group, calls wage growth "the missing piece of the labor market puzzle."
But on a certain level, there are a few pieces still missing. Make that a few hundred thousand pieces.
As much as JVSWorks support the ability of all individuals to make a fair, living wage, it is not so easy to shift the focus of the conversation away from the people who need jobs to those who are employed.
Let's see what developments March and the months ahead hold on this front.