Nearly five years after the Great Recession ended, the U.S. economy finally has created and surpassed the number of jobs lost in the downturn. The job gains have averaged 234,000 in the last three months, cementing belief in a strengthening resurgence.
But the 51st straight month of private-sector job growth hides a nagging bruise: Wages and labor force participation haven't grown enough to push the recovery any faster.
That growth pleased
And, even after the monthly reported increase in average hourly earnings _ up
"The sluggishness in wages is the weak link that is preventing the U.S. economy from fully expanding its wings," said
In an economy that's about 70 percent fueled by consumer spending, job and wage growth are essential. But only 62.8 percent of the working-age population is working or looking for work. And the jobs available for them haven't increased along with national population growth of about 15 million since the recession began.
Furthermore, average private-sector wages for all workers have risen just about 2 percent a year since the recession _ barely even with average price increases.
According to one analysis, the average private-sector employee earned
"So the economy is doing OK, but at some point we need the economy to do great," said
Consumer spending has grown at just about 2.2 percent a year since 2010. That's more than a percentage point lower than the annual average growth in the 20 years before the Great Recession.
The wage situation offers "little catch-up for the middle class," said
Even as the official unemployment rate has dropped to 6.3 percent, job market analysts note that the labor department's most expansive measure of joblessness is 12.2 percent.
That double-digit figure includes people who are "marginally attached" to the labor force, such as those who would like to hold a job but have temporarily given up looking because they were discouraged and those who have involuntarily taken part-time jobs as last resorts.
Economists also note that recent job growth in part-time, temporary, and lower-paying service occupations, such as retail, restaurants and lodging, has eclipsed gains in many higher-paying job sectors.
For example, the well-paying construction industry, now at its highest job count since
Of particular concern is potential loss of federal highway funding this summer. That, and other government spending cuts also hurt job growth. Many federal, state and local agencies, including public schools, are continuing to cut jobs or not replace retiring workers, and total government employment is down by more than 1 million from four years ago.
Economists had predicted that 2014 would leave the Great Recession's job losses in its rear view mirror. Unfortunately, the economy shrank in the first quarter this year _ at a 1 percent annual rate _ its only decline in the last three years. Harsh winter weather was blamed for much of the contraction.
Now, economists forecast annual growth of at least 3 percent for 2014. If that happens, hiring should continue and there should be more paychecks leading to more spending and more growth.
The Star's wire services contributed to this report. To reach
THE NATIONAL JOBS SNAPSHOT FOR MAY
Net job growth: up 217,000 from April
Unemployment rate: steady at 6.3 percent
Number of jobless workers: steady at 9.8 million, with one-third unemployed for 27 weeks or more
Employment to population ratio: steady at 58.9 percent
Involuntary part-time workers: little changed at 7.3 million
Average work week on private payrolls: steady 34.5 hours
Average hourly earnings on private payrolls: up
JOB GAINERS AND LOSERS IN MAY
Industry sectors with notable job gains:
Professional and business services + 55,000
Health care + 33,600
Social assistance + 21,300
Leisure and hospitality + 39,000
Transportation and warehousing + 16,400
Sectors with little statistical change:
Manufacturing, mining and logging, construction, wholesale trade, retail trade, information, financial activities, government.
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