Commentary Directory

Labor Day on Labor Day

Jacob Hess
September 06, 2021

The Week Behind

It’s Labor Day and it's time to look at labor day. That's right, last week we got an update on the labor market that followed the Fed's central banking conference in Jackson Hole, and with tapering still on schedule, many were wondering if the newest employment gain would get in the way. In addition to that, the report would give an idea of what kind of effect that the Delta variant would have on hiring. According to last week's CotW, August PMIs suggested that the effect might not be that much. However, the generally disappointing report might be evidence to the contrary.

Total nonfarm payroll employment grew by 235,000 in August and the unemployment rate fell -0.2% to 5.2%. While gains were made, the number was well off expectations, short of expectations by about 500,000. Wells Fargo was thoroughly disappointed, calling the report a "major miss at a critical time." For TD Bank, the steep decrease in hiring suggesting that "the risks in the coming months are firmly to the downside" as Delta continues to run rampant in the US. Those risks were made more material for CIBC which stated that it would now more than likely decrease its forecast for H2 GDP growth in the US. These were just three voices of the many that were sharing their disappointment. Many of them are also less sure of a tapering announcement in September.

While the consensus seems to be that the report was a major downer for the outlook of the US economy, we're here to provide a few counterpoints:

  • While the number of job additions was low, there was still a solid drop in permanent job losers. In August, permanently unemployed fell -443,000 compared to -257,000 in July. This was the largest drop since December 2010, larger than all of the declines in permanent unemployment during the pandemic recovery.
  • On the other hand, temporary layoffs were essentially flat in August and remain at 1.3 million. Recovery in this category has been quicker than the permanent category, and therefore, acts as the "low hanging fruit" in the labor market. Permanent unemployment can be a more chronic condition.
  • While the leisure and hospitality employment gain (the most sensitive to COVID factors) was 0, it wasn't negative. When infections rose at the end of 2020, the leisure and hospitality sector lost -525,000 jobs in two months, and that effect wasn't visible in the August report. This does provide evidence for the efficacy of vaccines in protecting the economy from further decline.
  • July and June data was revised upward by a significant amount. The Establishment Survey data for July was revised up from 943,000 to 1.1 million in July and from 850,000 to 962,000 in June. With revisions in these months, there might be reason to believe that August could also get an upward revision. However, it is unlikely the revision would come near expectations.

For all the disappointment that came with the jobs report, it seems unlikely that tapering is going to be delayed. The Fed might be inclined to label the Delta effects at "transitory" just like it did in discussing inflation. The market did not see the Fed getting more dovish as yields were unchanged in trading on Friday of last week. It all kicks off at the September Fed meeting.

Chart of the Week

Data from FRED

Temporary layoffs have skyrocketed during the COVID pandemic but were also quick to recover. Permanent job losers have recovered at a slower rate.

The Week Ahead

The Reserve Bank of Australia, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of Canada announce this week representing developed market central banks. These announcements precede the long awaited Federal Reserve meeting in September with tapering expected.