It’s been a pretty busy week in the world of economics reports.
On Wednesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released findings from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. This data, also known as the JOLT survey, gives us important insights into the state of the country’s labor market – documenting things like job hiring, vacancies and layoffs.
Then the Federal Reserve announced another round of interest rate hikes – continuing the push to bring down inflation. And finally, on Friday morning, January’s jobs report was released, showing the current unemployment rate to be 3.4%.
Texas Standard producer and reporter Sean Saldana joined the program to break these figures down.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: Let’s begin with that JOLTS data. It looks like, according to this recent report, 11 million job openings, 4 million people who quit, about 1.5 million layoffs, all in the month of December. What does that all add up to?
Sean Saldana: Yes, let’s put a finer point on this real quick. These JOLTS figures give us some data on how workers are doing in the economy. So just a quick example here: As you mentioned, in December, there were about 1.5 million layoffs across the country, and that figure has held steady since the start of 2021. But if you rewind the clock just a bit back to March of 2020, when the pandemic was really starting to take hold, there are about 13 million layoffs. And so these JOLTS figures, that’s what they help us fill in here in terms of assessing how things are going for workers.
What about this 4 million resignations figure? We’ve heard a lot about the so-called great resignation and labor shortages. What do we make of the 4 million quitting their jobs in December alone?
Well, a lot of people – especially in industries like food and hospitality, retail and entertainment – are still quitting, which, if you’re a worker in America, is generally the most power you can have in a workplace when it comes to things like getting a pay raise or getting better hours. And so we’re still seeing a lot of that. I will say, though, back in November of 2021, 4.5 million people quit their jobs. And over the past year or so, we’ve seen that figure tick down little by little. And so now we’re at about 4 million.
The latest round of interest rate hikes – this makes it, of course, by extension, more expensive to get a mortgage or an auto loan. What was it, about a quarter percent increase?
Yes, as we’ve covered, we’ve seen this quarter percent increase about eight times in the past year, which is kind of a lot. The good news is, though, that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell this week did say that we are officially in the “early stages of disinflation.” As you may remember, inflation was at about 9% this summer, whereas right now we’re at about 6.5%. But the other thing to note here is that “early stages” portion of Jerome Powell’s claim: It’s important to keep in mind that the Federal Reserve’s target inflation rate is 2%. We’re at 6.5% percent. So, yeah, we’ve got a ways to go here.
It looks like this jobs report shows a national unemployment rate of 3.4%, slightly lower than Texas’ unemployment rate of 3.9%. Any explanation for why Texas has a higher percentage of unemployed people than the national average? I guess we’re staggered in terms of the timeline here on these numbers, too.
Yeah, so there’s a little bit of a gap in the timeline here, but there is actually some recent Dallas Federal Reserve research on this, because this is not a new trend. Texas’ unemployment rate is generally a little higher than the nation’s. So as many people know, Texas’ economic output is massive. If we were our own nation, we’d be one of the 10 largest economies in the world – and because of that, a lot of people are generally eager to enter the job market in the Lone Star State, which means we have a lot of immigrants, a lot of Californians, a lot of movement between cities, etc. And because of that – people switching jobs, moving to new areas, getting settled – you end up with a lot of discrepancies like this. Obviously, that’s just one explanation, but that’s why we pass through the figures here.