Unemployment in the US is now at a 17-year low, having grown for 86 months in a row since the Great Recession. Hiring did grind to a halt in September after hurricanes Harvey and Irma tore through Florida and Texas, disrupting some of the country’s most economically important areas.
But on Friday, the economy appeared to have shaken off the slump that followed in their wake, adding 228,000 new jobs in November according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Beneath the surface, however, there are still some deep scars and structural problems remaining in the labor market.
Wage growth remains sluggish. Over the year, wages have risen just 64¢ or 2.5%, continuing the pattern of slow growth that can be traced back to the 1970s. Workers with a college degree have fared better but only a third of Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
This is largely because the job gains are still mainly in low-paying service-sector jobs, such as healthcare, the fastest growing jobs sector, and food and drink. There are still too many Americans – 4.8 million people – working part-time who want full-time jobs.
Unemployment rates still vary widely by race and age. White unemployment is just 3.6%, the rate for African Americans is more than twice that at 7.3%. Teens are unemployed at a rate of 15.9%.
About 62.7% of the US population is in the labor force or looking for work, a figure known as the participation rate. It was 67% in January 2000, a peak it reached after trending up for three decades, but has dropped ever since. An aging population is contributing to its fall.
Other measures of the job market paint a far bleaker picture than the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly snapshot. According to the Economic Innovation Group, 52.3 million Americans live in “economically distressed communities” – a measure that includes poverty rates, housing vacancies and education as well as income and hiring. That represents one in six Americans, or 17% of the US population.