Job Market is in Neutral, Federal Stats Suggest

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The Federal Reserve, which could soon begin to raise interest rates despite sings that the job market remains fragile.

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The Federal Reserve, which could soon begin to raise interest rates despite sings that the job market remains fragile.

Five million is a big number, and it’s roughly the number of jobs that were open at the end of February. It’s also pretty close to the number of people who took new jobs and the number of people who left jobs during that month. Which makes it sound like big changes are afoot in the American labor market.

Except that those numbers are pretty near identical to what the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January. Same with the rate of quits or layoffs. This suggests that the millions of individual career moves over the month were the sound of an engine idling rather than racing forward or, thankfully, sliding into reverse.

This matters because the Federal Reserve is considering whether to start raising interest rates from the very low level they’ve maintained for years. While some Fed officials are signalling caution about any rise, the Fed is under pressure to raise rates from people concerned about bank profits, the so-far nonexistent problem of inflation or just the fact that rates have been so low for so long.

The BLS numbers do show a 3.2 million employment gain over the year ending in February. But remember that just to absorb new workers the economy has to create at least 100,000 jobs a month, if not more.

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