NEW YORK — There’s not much to say about the July jobs numbers beyond this: They’re good news across the board.
More Americans are working, and they’re getting paid more money for their efforts. People who weren’t even looking for jobs now are, and they’re finding them. A blockbuster job growth number for June wasn’t downgraded with further analysis, but rather revised higher.
It’s an election year, which means these numbers will inevitably be viewed through the prism of how they affect the chances of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to seize the White House. And to the degree a good economy (and good economic headlines) benefits the incumbent party, there’s no question this helps Clinton.
Political science research particularly points to changes in income as being predictors of how people vote, and the July data on average hourly earnings suggest American workers are being paid more: a 2.6 percent gain over the last year, tied for the highest since 2009 and a comfortable gain in workers’ purchasing power in an era of roughly 1 percent annual inflation.
So far in the campaign, Clinton has resisted crowing about the strengths of the economy and instead emphasized her plans to try to strengthen the areas where conditions remain weak. The unemployment rate among adults over age 25 without a high school diploma was 6.3 percent in July, for example, far above the 2.5 percent for those with at least a bachelor’s degree.
And while the proportion of Americans who were in the labor force — either working or looking for work — ticked up in July, it has only recovered a tiny sliver of its decline since the 2008 recession (it was 66 percent in December 2007, bottomed out last year at 62.4 percent, and has recovered slightly to 62.8 percent).
Part of this drop is because baby boomers are hitting retirement age, but some large portion is less well understood, driven by both men and women of prime working age who say they’re not even looking for jobs.
If you try to search the latest Labor Department numbers for bad news, the closest you’ll find is a rise in the number of people who have been unemployed for 27 weeks — in other words, people who may say they want work but are becoming increasingly unattached from the habits of holding down a job.
So that creates a fascinating backdrop for the economic discussion during the homestretch of the election. The economy truly is growing, and job growth looks to be robust.
Expect Clinton to seek to show empathy for those who are being left behind even by this stronger recovery and avoiding claims that the economy is as robust as the headline numbers might suggest. And don’t be surprised if Trump repeats his claims that the economy is actually very weak.
Here’s an interpretation of the available data over the last several months that incorporates all these realities. You probably won’t hear it on the campaign trail, but if a candidate’s job was to provide nuance rather than get elected, this is what could be said:
The US economy is creating jobs at a rapid pace; most people who say they want a job are able to find one, and employers are having a hard enough time finding workers that they’re having to pay higher wages. But large segments of the population, especially those without advanced education, left the labor force during the last several years, and relatively few of them are being pulled back in. Fixing that will be an important goal of the next president. Meanwhile, for reasons that aren’t fully understood, economic output is growing much slower than job creation, which will mean lower living standards in the future if that continues. That should be another big worry for whoever occupies the Oval Office in January.