Economic Indicators

News from EPI Encouraging Jobs Report, but Nominal Wages Indicate How Far We Have to Go

The economy added a surprising and encouraging 321,000 jobs in November. This is welcome news, however, it’s important to put these numbers in context. At this rate, we won’t return to pre-recession labor market health until October 2016—nearly nine years since the recession began.

Despite this surge in job creation, there’s still substantial slack in the economy, as evidenced by still sluggish wage growth—a consistent theme of the recovery and indeed of the past three-and-a-half decades. Private sector nominal average hourly earnings grew 2.1 percent annually in November—similar to what we’ve seen this year so far—which shows that that the labor market is still far from healthy, and that Americans are not reaping the full benefits of the growing economy.

This lackluster wage growth is a clear indicator that there’s still considerable slack in the labor market. In addition to the headline unemployment number, there are millions of workers who left the labor force because job opportunities are too weak, and millions more employed workers who can’t change jobs or get the hours they need, and who haven’t seen a pay increase after years of hard work. It’s clear that the Federal Reserve should not do anything to slow the economy until nominal wage growth picks up significantly.

Because nominal wage growth is an important gauge of the labor market, and a critical indicator for Federal Reserve policymakers, today we are unveiling EPI’s new Nominal Wage Tracker. This tracker contains the most up-to-date information on nominal wages, shows the cumulative effect of the ongoing failure of wages to hit target levels, and illustrates how labor’s share of corporate-sector income has not begun any reliable rise following its long fall in the recovery from the Great Recession.

In spite of today’s impressive overall jobs number, it is clear that nominal wages are growing far slower than any reasonable wage target for the last five years. The fact is that the economy is not growing enough for workers to feel the effects in their paychecks and not enough for the Federal Reserve to slow the economy for fear of any upcoming inflationary pressure. If the Fed acts too soon, it will slow labor share’s recovery and come at a cost to Americans’ living standards.

See more work by Elise Gould