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U.S. Jobs: Milestone Low for Unemployment

It's apparently a good time to strike a favorable deal if you're negotiating with a potential employer. For the first time since 2000, unemployment in the United States dipped below 4 percent.

With something of a recovery from last month’s initial dismal jobs created number of 103,000 (revised in this month’s summary to 135,000) to 164,000 jobs for April, the worm turned on that statistic — and in the right direction.

 

U.S. Employment Situation Summare April 2018

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Data Tools page (Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey)

 

Though the strong February numbers of 326,000 were revised slightly downward to 324,000 — with March now at 135,000, and April at 164,000 — the quarterly average is more than 207,000 jobs created monthly for that period. This is much more in line with the longer term 1 and 2 year trends, which fall in a range of between 200,000 and 220,000 jobs per month.

 

Thus, I’m inclined to see March as something of a hiccup, or perhaps as a brief pause to take a breath before resuming more normal growth patterns.

 

But hey! What about that unemployment number? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports it at a truly low value of 3.9 percent for April, down from 4.1 percent in the March summary. In fact, unemployment hasn’t been that low since September through December of 2000. (And it actually dipped to 3.8 percent in April of that year, exactly 18 years prior to the current reporting period.) If anything signals that the buyer’s hand in the job market is weakening, this dip below 4 percent surely tells us at least that much.

 

Interestingly, the New York Times reports that “In the last 60 years there has been only one sustained period where unemployment stayed below 4 percent: the late 1960s.” I’m not sure were quite ready (or able) to park unemployment numbers this low down the totem pole for any real length of time, though.

 

Because wage growth, however, remains what CNBC accurately characterizes as “tepid,” we’re still not in a situation where employers are ready to start bidding up pay for employees across the board, trying to tempt a smaller number of applicants into an ever-growing number of open positions.

 

Hourly earning rose by $0.04 to $26.84 overall, and wages have grown by 2.6 percent over the past 12-month period. With inflation at 2.2 percent in February and 2.4 percent in March (the April numbers aren’t out yet), this indicates that wages are basically treading water, with little real gains in income for workers, disposable or otherwise.

 

That said, however, employers are already feeling the pinch in higher-demand IT positions, though, especially in areas such as big data, cloud computing, mobile, and security (see this CIO story about a late 2017 Robert Half report). For higher-skilled jobs, future prospects are not only strong for continued employment but also for higher wages, bonuses, and other forms of compensation.

 

With inflation heating up a little, and unemployment levels this low, there’s plenty of pressure to drive wages up. Hopefully, this means more opportunities and better times for IT pros ahead, and a continuing boost to the overall economy. Stay tuned! I’ll return with the next thrilling installment when the US BLS reports the May numbers at the beginning of June.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ed-tittel120Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed blogs on certification topics for Tom’s IT Pro, and on Windows desktop OS topics for TechTarget. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com.