The jobs report for October showed the unemployment rate falling to 4.1 percent, the lowest rate in almost 17 years. Of course, as many have noted, the unemployment data are somewhat erratic and this was associated with a drop in employment rates (EPOPs), as people left the labor market, which is not good news. Still, the drop in EPOPs followed a jump in September, so that even with the October decline the EPOP for prime-age (ages 25 to 54) women is still 0.7 percentage points above its year-ago level and for men, the increase is 0.6 percentage points. So this is still a very good story.
But the other part of the story, that many folks seem to have missed, is that there is evidence of a modest uptick in wage growth. Typically we look at the year over year gain in wages, which is telling us much about wage growth last November as it is about the pace of wage growth last month. If we focus on the more recent data, taking the average hourly wage for the last three months (August to October) with the prior three months (May to July), there is clear evidence of an uptick in wage growth, as shown below.
The annualized wage growth by this measure is 3.1 percent. If we knock off a couple of tenths due to the fact that September's number was distorted by the hurricane, we are still looking at a 2.9 percent rate of wage growth. While this is hardly spectacular, if inflation remains under 2.0 percent (it jumped in September due to higher gas prices caused by the hurricanes), it translates in a modest pace of real wage growth that is consistent with workers getting their share of productivity growth.
It would be good to see wages outpace productivity growth for a period of time in order to make back ground lost during the Great Recession, but it is important to note this progress. And, if the third quarter productivity number (3.0 percent growth) is not a fluke, then we can really talk about some good wage growth.