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Labor Report

Less than Half of American Workers Got a Raise Last Year

There are two perspectives on the results of a new survey of American workers conducted by Bankrate, LLC, a New York City-based consumer financial services company. Some commentators are taking a glass half-full approach, reporting that 11 percent more workers said they received a pay raise in 2019 compared to the prior year.

Yet, despite the notable improvement, less than half of workers surveyed got any pay raise at all during the calendar year, a fact that seems to belie the historically low unemployment rate that dropped from 4.0% last January to 3.5% at year’s end.

“The lack of pay increases comes at a time when job growth appears to be booming,” Bankrate reported on its website. “U.S. employers have added new positions for a record 110 straight months, and the unemployment rate has plunged to a 50-year low.”

“The survey’s findings are also illustrative of a broader economic trend. Typically, as the pool of available workers starts to thin, research suggests that employers will boost pay to recruit more. For much of the (economic) expansion, however, that hasn’t happened.”

Using the Department of Labor’s latest data, the company noted that average hourly earnings have grown by 3.1% from a year ago, but “wages didn’t breach 3% annual growth until October 2018 – a threshold that economists say should’ve happened much earlier.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell commented on the apparent dichotomy when testifying to Congress in November: “We want to remind ourselves that prosperity isn’t experienced in all communities. Low- and moderate-income communities in many cases are just starting to feel the benefits of this expansion. … This underscores for us the importance of sustaining the expansion so that the strong job market reaches more of those left behind.”

Census Bureau Improves Temp Wages Amid Lagging Worker Recruitment

Confronted with a shortage of job applicants for this year’s national population count, the Census Bureau’s Philadelphia Regional Center has bumped the hourly pay rates it’s offering for many of its temporary hires.

Census takers in Chester County stand to earn $27.50 an hour. That’s the highest rate in the region and an $8 increase over the previously announced rate. Those in Montgomery County can earn $27 an hour, which is a raise of $4.50.

In the city of Philadelphia, census takers will be paid $25.50 an hour, which is $2.50 more than the prior rate. The rates in Camden and Gloucester counties in New Jersey each increased by $1 to $17.50 per hour.

The Inquirer reported, “According to census officials, the bureau has raised hourly rates in almost 300 local jurisdictions by an average of $2.85 throughout Pennsylvania; Washington; Delaware; Maryland; Ohio; Virginia; Kentucky; Tennessee; and West Virginia, which are all covered by the Philadelphia regional office.”

Nationwide, the Bureau was planning to fill almost 500,000 temporary jobs for the Census, which is conducted every 10 years and determines each state’s  allocation of U.S. House of Representatives members, as well as its share of many federal funding streams.

Due to national population shifts, Pennsylvania is expected to lose one of its 18 Congressional seats, as are nine other states. In Pennsylvania, the population has risen by an estimated 100,000 since the 2010 count, but other mostly Southern and Western “Sun Belt” states have grown faster.

The nation’s low unemployment rate and the Bureau’s increasing use of modern technologies like smartphones has hindered recruitment efforts, the Inquirer reported. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and pass a background investigation. Job listings can be found on the Philadelphia Region website.

Western PA Fracking Industry Leaks Jobs, Awaits Beaver Cracker Plant

Pittsburgh-area fracking companies eliminated more than 400 jobs in 2019 and could cut more positions this year as the industry slumps amid an oversupply of natural gas and declining prices, according to a new report in Pittsburgh City Paper.

EQT Corporation led the way with almost 300 job cuts, including about 100 layoffs last January and almost 200 more in September. CNX Resources eliminated 70 positions, while Texas-based Range Resources cut 40 from its Pittsburgh regional offices. Furthermore, Chevron Corporation announced last month its intention to sell its entire Appalachian oil and gas business, which employs about 400 and controls 890,000 acres in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. The fate of those jobs is not known.

Citing a report by the Observer-Reporter of Washington County, City Paper wrote that the number of drilling rigs in Pennsylvania has dropped from a peak level of 47 to 24. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has reported that declining prices are expected to continue into this year.

“Since 2016, several large conglomerates have divested funds from the Appalachia natural gas region, and other companies have pulled out operations entirely, some of them losing millions of dollars,” City Paper reported. “The benefits for those working in ancillary industries might be less stellar than originally reported. From 2009-2016, there were about 7,000 jobs created in the extractive services field, the vast majority of these in fracking. However, energy companies like Range Resources promised that fracking would lead to a growth in manufacturing jobs. From 2009-2016, the Pittsburgh region lost more than 10,000 manufacturing jobs.”

Conversely, the industry may “get a boost” from the sprawling cracker plant that Shell is building in Beaver County, a project that is employing 5,000 construction workers temporarily and is projected to create 600 permanent jobs. The plant will refine natural gas into plastic pellets and may increase demand for gas.

December 2019 National Jobs Update

The seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate saw no month-to-month change in December 2019, closing the year out at 3.5% (matching the 2019 low in November and September 2019, its lowest point since December 1969). Over the month, unemployment rolls decreased by nearly 60,000 individuals, lowering total unemployment to 5.753 million. National unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 5,753,000
  • Change Over Month –   DOWN   58,000
  • Change Over Year –   DOWN   533,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –   DOWN   1,765,000
  • Rate Change Over Month – no change
  • Rate Change Over Year –   DOWN   0.4%
  • Rate Change Over Trump Term –   DOWN   1.2%
  • Rate Change Over Obama 2nd Term –   DOWN   3.3%

As indicated above, total unemployment’s rounded percentage of the labor force, or unemployment rate, was unchanged over the month (rate = unemployment / labor force). The labor force is the total number of employed individuals combined with the total number of unemployed individuals actively searching for work. Growth in the labor force can be a sign of a strengthening economy from more people working and/or more individuals searching for jobs. In December 2019, the national labor force grew by 209,000 individuals over the prior month, a combination of total employment* rising by 267,000 individuals and total unemployment down by 58,000 individuals as noted above, pushing its total to a new record high of 164.5 million.
Since President Trump took office, the national labor force has grown by 4.909 million individuals (unemployment -1.765 million & employment +6.674 million), continuing progress made over President Obama’s second term when the national labor force grew by 3.884 million individuals (unemployment -4.953 million & employment +8.837 million). National labor force statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Labor Force – 164,556,000
  • Change Over Month –   UP   209,000
  • Change Over Year -   UP   1,445,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –   UP   4,909,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term –   UP   3,884,000

Non-farm* jobs grew by 145,000 in December 2019, pushing total non-farm employment to a new record high of 152.3 million, while closing out a year of slowed growth. For 2019, percentage non-farm employment growth stood at its lowest level since 2010. Additionally, average monthly non-farm job gains through President Trump’s term thus far (191,000) remain below average monthly growth seen over President Obama’s second term (217,000). National non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Non-Farm Employment – 152,383,000
  • Change Over Month –   UP   145,000
  • Change Over Year –   UP   2,108,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –   UP   6,688,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term –   UP   10,412,000

*Total employment for labor force provided by U.S. Census Household survey. The separate BLS Establishment survey measures non-farm jobs only.