The US Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) June jobs and unemployment report, released on Friday, July 3, was a blockbuster. The economy added 288,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent. With the revisions to April's and May's jobs reports, the net increase actually amounted to 317,000 jobs, with growth spread broadly across most industries. For the first time since the turn of the century, the United States has experienced five straight months in which 200,000 or more net jobs have been created.
After a 2.9 percent decline in gross domestic product in 2014's first quarter, businesses had cause for concern about the future of the American economy. This jobs report should go a long way to allay those fears. Job creation is healthy and accelerating. The second quarter GDP numbers are going to be substantially better, possibly with a growth rate north of three percent.
The problem is that job loss during the Great Recession was the worst since the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, and we are still recovering. The labor market remains slack. Arguably the most important news in the BLS report, besides the topline numbers, was that average hourly wages rose a tepid six cents in June. If the labor market were better, this figure would be rising much more rapidly. There are more jobs to go around—almost 1.4 million in 2014—but there's not much more money in working- and middle-class families' bank accounts.
This stagnation in real wages is bad news for economic growth and, in particular, certain industry sectors. Seventy percent of the American economy is built on consumer spending. Without a real pay increase, consumers can't spend more, and businesses can't earn more from domestic sales. Retail and other consumer services businesses will continue to feel the pinch most, but the consequences will ripple throughout the economy. Also, job growth in the manufacturing sector in June was quite slow, and the construction sector did not grow at all. Many of us expected a big bounce-back in construction after the harsh winter. This report is a disappointment in that respect. Meanwhile, the health care sector continues to grow as it has in good times and bad, adding 21,000 new jobs.
There is some very good news buried in the BLS June jobs report. The number of long-term unemployed (six months or longer) declined by 293,000 in June—that's around a 25 percent decline since last year. The number of workers "marginally attached" to the economy declined by more than 20 percent since last year. These are workers who have been out of work for a good long time, who are deciding between dropping out or restarting their search for work. This report suggests many are not fleeing the labor market, which is good news. Economists have worried aloud that millions of workers were simply lost to long-term unemployment and never coming back. June's numbers suggest some of these workers are finding jobs.
The bottom line: Our economy still has a long way to go to achieve full employment and sustained rapid economic growth. But this month gives everyone something to smile about, even if we should keep the champagne on ice for now.