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The US Job Market is Cooling on Cue

Author: Andrew Flowers
07 Apr 23

The majority of economists have decided the Fed’s soft-landing is improbable, but the labor market is cooling right on cue. 

The U.S. added 236,000 jobs in March, right at the consensus forecast. The unemployment rate ticked down to 3.5%. This report had some really good news for the macroeconomy: wage growth continues to slow and labor supply is expanding. While job gains are slowing, that’s a good thing. The combo of cooling demand and an influx of workers is depressurizing the labor market. That’s just what the Fed wants to see to justify ending its cycle of rate hikes.

Full employment has arrived!

The prime-age employment-to-population (EPOP) ratio rose to 80.7%, above its pre-COVID mark. EPOP is perhaps the best indicator of full employment – a sign that everyone who wants a job can get one. And looking just at EPOP for prime-age workers (those aged 25- to 54- years old) shows it’s at the highest level since 2001.

The benefits of a tight market

Featured in this report is some really positive news that demonstrates the benefits of a tight labor market. The unemployment rate for Black Americans fell to 5.0%, its lowest point since the beginning of the series in the 1970s. A tight labor market lifts up all Americans.

Wage growth trends please the Fed

Average hourly earnings, not adjusted for inflation, continue to decelerate year-over-year for private sector non-managers. While everyone wants strong wage growth, the Fed is happy with this trend. Moderating wage growth should quell their fears of a wage-price spiral, and hopefully combat stubborn services inflation. 

Industry job growth strong, but there are signs of cooling

Once again, service-providing sectors saw impressive gains, while goods-producing industries are on the decline overall. But, across industries, gains were more moderate than months before. 

If you squint, you can see the beginning of a slowing trend in the service sector. For example, healthcare gained 34,000 jobs, very strong but down from past months’ average. Leisure and hospitality also is seeing strong but slowing gains, this month adding 72,000 jobs. A hot market for service workers is cooling ever so slightly. 

Goods-producing sectors, like construction, are feeling the fall-out of the Fed’s rate hikes. Goods-adjacent sectors, such as warehousing, are still feeling the pressure of shifting consumer demand and reported losses in March.

Restaurants and Town Halls have almost recovered 

While the U.S. job growth is over 3 million jobs above pre-COVID levels, it’s still just short on leisure and hospitality and government jobs. Leisure and hospitality especially has room to expand – with demand for services like eating out and traveling still elevated, labor in the sector is in high-demand. Even where the economy has recovered workers, there still seems to be some space for growth.


Now, this report is still strong. But compared to the roaring strength of the labor market so far this year (800,000-jobs-in-the-first-two-months strong), this report showed some promising signs of cooling. It gives confidence to the Federal Reserve and soft-landing believers. While it might seem a little backwards, the slowing job gains and moderating wage growth is a good thing. In order to achieve price stability, this red-hot market needs to cool. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a journey to a more sustainable labor force.

Labor Economist

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