Ball State Economist: October U.S. jobs report Has ‘Welcomed’ improvements, but warning flags persist

INDIANA – The Employment Situation Summary for October was an improvement from September.

Last month, there was a reported increase of 531,000 jobs, leaving the U.S. with 4.2. million fewer jobs than at the pre-pandemic peak.

Michael Hicks

“This was a pleasant departure from more recent jobs reports, but there are still warning flags,” according to Dr. Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. “Labor force participation is depressed, almost certainly due to the lingering effects of COVID on schools. Still, the growth of employment for women outpaced that of men, which marks a significant departure from the previous months of this report. This suggests that with the start of in-person school, more caregivers are taking jobs.”

Here are more of Dr. Hicks’ takeaways from the October Jobs Report.

  • There were very large revisions to the past two months, totaling almost 120,000 each. Average hourly earnings also rose substantially, with a year over year increase of 4.9 percent.
  • Employment growth was unusually strong for high school graduates and college graduates. Those with some college but no degree, and those without a high school diploma saw job cuts.
  • The composition of employment growth was broad, with remarkably large gains in retail (35,000), trade and transportation (104,000, and hospitality and tourism (164,000).
  • Manufacturing rebounded sharply, with 60,000 news jobs, of which 27,700 were in transportation equipment.
  • Wage growth is solid, and represents actual wage gains, not merely the composition of jobs. The unemployment rate among colleges grads is 2.4%, with 71.9% participation rate in labor markets. For high school grads, it is 5.4% with a 55.0% participation rate. The new job growth is re-absorbing more workers in traditionally lower paid occupations. Thus, the wage gains overall are stronger than the 4.9% national average suggests. 
  • Importantly, 20 months have passed since the start of the Pandemic, a time that would’ve resulted in substantial natural growth to the labor force. So, we likely have 5.7-6.3 million fewer workers available today than we would have had without the pandemic. That means we will require a strong year of job growth to make up that lost ground.
  • This is a welcomed job report that signals the supply chain issues of the late summer and early fall, along with the spread of COVID-B, are having a less injurious effect on labor markets than once feared.