David Hernandez, CFA
With the unemployment rate (6.6%) approaching the Fed’s forward guidance target of 6.5%, this week’s chart examines two additional labor market indicators: the number of people working part-time for economic reasons and the number of individuals who have been unemployed for longer than six months. In her February report to Congress, the new Fed Chairperson, Janet Yellen, identified these two data points as important gauges for evaluating the health of the U.S. job market.
While we have seen steady improvement in the headline unemployment number (down from a high of 10.0%), much of the “recovery” has been due to a decreasing labor participation rate, and overall the labor market remains relatively weak. Many individuals have resorted to working part-time due to poor labor demand and this segment constitutes 5.3% of currently “employed” workers. While below the high (7.0%) it is still above the long-term average of 4.4%. In addition, a large percentage of the unemployed (35.6%) have been so for more than six months. This is above the long-term average of 25.5% yet below the peak of 45%.
With the risk of inflation remaining relatively low, the market expects the central bank to refrain from increasing the fed funds rate at least through the first half of 2014 in an attempt to strengthen the economy and labor market even if the unemployment rate drops below 6.5%.
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