All morning there's been news on the "good" parts of the February jobs report released today – but here's the real story.
While unemployment dropped to 5.5% from 5.7%, the labor force participation rate – the percentage of working-age persons (16-64) employed, plus those unemployed but looking for a job – is still low at 62.8%.
The rate, a key measure of a healthy job market, is down from 62.9% in January. Since April 2014, the rate has remained in a tight range of 62.7% to 62.9%, the lowest since 1978. It peaked in the late 1990s and 2000 to just more than 67%.
Also remaining weak are wages.
Average hourly earnings eked up a meager 0.01%, or $0.03, to $24.78 last month. This was a huge disappointment after January's 0.5% jump in wages, to $24.75.
"January's job report showed the largest wage gain for workers in over six years," Steven Pressman, professor of finance and economics at Monmouth University in West Long Brach, N.J., told Money Morning. "It was a rare glimmer of hope for U.S. workers that things might be improving. I was skeptical those good results would continue moving forward. Today we see it was likely a one-shot phenomenon."
Pressman said a good part of January's wage gains came from higher minimum wages. Indeed, 19 states raised minimum wages in January. The month's wage growth jump wasn't a sign the job market tightened to the point where wage growth started heating up. It was simply a sign of higher minimum wages across wide swaths of the country.
Over the last 12 months, average hourly wages have risen just 2.2%. That's handily below the 3% to 5% growth economists deem healthy.
One thing keeping wages low is employers know they don't have to boost wages to attract the eager job pool. There are 6.6 million temporary and part-time workers available to step into fulltime jobs when they pop up.
Wages aside, Pressman found more troubling numbers in Friday's job report…