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More Than Full Employment

Impossible? Not any more...

LET'S not get distracted, writes Bill Bonner in his Diary of a Rogue Economist.

There has been good news oozing from every orifice; but all of it is phony...or misinterpreted.

For example, widespread was the news that people are richer than ever.

Household net worth is at an all-time high. Typically, families have a net worth of about five times their incomes. But as the feds pumped cheap money into the financial system, stocks climbed and household wealth took a leap.

In 1999, the net worth-to-income ratio hit an all-time high of over 6. That was the top of the dot-com bubble. The bubble popped in 2000, and the ratio went back down to its normal range.

But it didn't stay there for long. Soon, the Fed was pumping in more cash and credit, and the ratio of net worth to income was jumping up to a new record – 6.4 in 2007.

That bubble, focused on housing, blew up in 2008. Again, the ratio crashed back down to normal.

Guess what has happened since. The feds went back to work with pumps and air hoses in 2009, injecting another $3 trillion (in bond purchases), and voilà – by 2015, the ratio was back up to 6.4.

And this year, it rose to over 6.5 – a new all-time high.

Here's another bit of faux good news. It was only a few weeks ago when we reported the words of the Fed, claiming that the US had reached "more than full employment". And now comes news that now we have more than "more than full employment".

The unemployment rate has sunk to 3.9%. If this keeps up, we will soon have negative unemployment. That is, we'll have more people working than working people. So there will be more jobs splashing in the labor pool than people.

There are 148 million people with jobs in the US today. If the feds' math is right – if we could just add six million more jobs – there wouldn't be a single unemployed person in the entire country.

Except, of course, for the 169 million people who still don't have jobs, but who aren't counted in the unemployment numbers because they aren't actively looking for jobs.

That includes the 16.6 million people who "dropped out" of the labor force in the last eight years, and the 230,000 people that the Bureau of Labor Statistics took out of the "labor pool" last month – which is how they got the unemployment number down so low.

The US Census Bureau also tells us that there are 46 million Americans living "in poverty", which it describes as "lacking adequate food, shelter, and/or clothing."

With so many people getting richer and richer...and with so many jobs...how could that be? Why are there still people shuffling up Charles Street in Baltimore asking for quarters?

The latest jobs report inadvertently revealed the truth.

First, the typical American worker is losing ground, not gaining it.

The official inflation rate is 2.4%. Meanwhile, wage growth is at 2.6%. That leaves a net gain of 0.2% – or 2 cents for every $10 of earnings.

But that's a statistic. The price of gasoline was an average of $2.30 per gallon a year ago. Now, it's 50 cents higher. That's not a statistic. That's an actual price hike.

And it means that people are paying 22% more for fuel.

If all costs had gone up a similar amount, the nominal 2.6% increase would work out to a 19.4% pay cut.

A few more pay raises like that and they'll be broke!

The second thing it tells us is that all the numbers are baloney. If we really had full employment, the supply of workers would be topping out, while the demand would be high; under those conditions, the price of labor would rise and working people would be getting more money.

But they're not...because the statistics are fake.

Measuring "unemployment" properly, in terms of hours worked, colleague David Stockman found that the unemployment rate has gone up, not down. At the beginning of this century, 36.4% of available hours (the number of people of working age x 2,000 hours per year) was not being used. Currently, that figure is 40%.

That's full employment?

The wage number tells us one more interesting thing. The tax cut didn't work.

Remember, it wasn't just supposed to put more cash in shareholders' pockets. It was supposed to increase wages, too. It didn't. Here's Mark Whitehouse at Bloomberg:

When I checked a couple months ago, I found pretty much zero evidence that companies were increasing wages any more than they otherwise would have. Now that we have data from two more jobs reports, let's take another look. Overall, wage gains do not appear to have accelerated. From December through April, average hourly earnings increased at an annualized pace of 2.3%, significantly slower than in 2017.

The good-news numbers are fake.

Bill Bonner has co-authored a number of New York Times Bestsellers including Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Markets and Messiahs. In his own opinion, Bill's most recent title, A Modest Theory of Civilization: Win-Win or Lose, is his best work yet. Bill also founded The Agora, a worldwide community for private researchers and publishers, in 1979. Financial analysts within the group have exposed and predicted some of the world's biggest shifts since that time, starting with the fall of the Soviet Union back in the late 1980s, to the collapse of the Dot Com (2000) and then mortgage finance (2008) bubbles, and more recently the election of President Trump.

See full archive of Bill Bonner articles

Please Note: All articles published here are to inform your thinking, not lead it. Only you can decide the best place for your money, and any decision you make will put your money at risk. Information or data included here may have already been overtaken by events – and must be verified elsewhere – should you choose to act on it. Please review our Terms & Conditions for accessing Gold News.

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