New York Times - Economy

Sharp Fall in U.S. Hiring Saps Chance of Fed Rate Increase in June

While subject to further revision as well, May’s figures were the lowest monthly growth since September 2010.

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A construction site in Orlando, Fla. The average monthly job gains so far in 2016 have fallen far shy of the nearly 240,000 average of the last two years, Credit Loren Elliott for The New York Times

The weakness in last month’s job totals was somewhat exaggerated because the estimate reflected the Labor Department classification of more than 35,000 striking Verizon workers as unemployed. With those people now back on the job, the missing strikers should be added back in the June report.

Even apart from that distortion, the average monthly job gains so far in 2016 have fallen far shy of the nearly 240,000 average of the last two years, a pace that has helped buoy the economy and cut the jobless figure in half since the depths of the recession.

Given the uncertainty about the economic outlook, the Federal Reserve is now likely to put off any decision to raise interest rates at its next meeting in mid-June and probably avoid lifting rates at its July meeting as well.

Lael Brainard, a Fed governor and an ally of the Fed chairwoman, Janet L. Yellen, described the May report as “sobering” in a speech on Friday afternoon.

Ms. Brainard said the weak job growth was a reminder that the strength of the recovery should not be taken for granted, and she said she did not see clear evidence the economy had rebounded from a weak winter.

“Recent economic developments have been mixed, and important downside risks remain,” Ms. Brainard, who has pushed for the Fed to move slowly in raising interest rates, said at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “In this environment, prudent risk management implies there is a benefit to waiting for additional data.”

After the Friday report, investors wrote off the chances of a June rate increase. The probability, as suggested by asset prices, fell to 6 percent from 21 percent in early trading, according to the CME Group. The probability of a rate rise by September fell from about two-thirds, but it remained about 50/50 either way.

With the summer stretching ahead, the sentiment on Wall Street could perhaps be best summed up by the Tempos’ 1959 hit, “See You in September.”

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Unless there are further signs of fresh economic weakness, however, most economists expect at least one rate increase before the end of the year. The unemployment rate, which the Fed regards as an important indicator, has finally dropped to where it was before the recession began in late 2007. And first-time claims for unemployment insurance have remained at low levels not seen since the 1970s.

On the other side of the ledger, the labor force participation rate declined for the second consecutive month, to 62.6 percent, and the number of people working part time for economic reasons rose sharply.

Apart from the jobs figures, there are several encouraging economic signs, including a surge in home construction and hardy consumer spending. Most analysts expect the pace of economic growth to pick up to about 2.5 percent over the next three months from the first quarter’s 0.8 percent.

“To be clear, there is no evidence the economy is slowing into recession,” said Steve Blitz, chief economist of M Science, a research firm.

Voters’ perceptions of the economy are often a driving force in presidential elections. “It’s always good to be the party in power when the economic cycle is turning up in an election,” said Mark J. Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University. “It’s never advantageous when there is a downturn close to the election.”

This time around, though, history may not be the best guide, Thomas E. Mann, a resident scholar at Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, warned: “We should beware normalizing an abnormal election.”

“Under these circumstances,” he said, “there’s a good chance that the degree of a candidate’s personal unfavorability could be more important than the economy.”

As for the economy’s impact, Mr. Mann said changes in personal income, which are on the rise, tend to sway voters at the margins more than the jobless rate or the pace of job creation.

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