Economists Surprised by Inflation-Less Boom

(p. A13) The labor market the United States is experiencing right now wasn’t supposed to be possible.

Not that long ago, the overwhelming consensus among economists would have been that you couldn’t have a 3.6 percent unemployment rate without also seeing the rate of job creation slowing (where are new workers going to come from with so few out of work, after all?) and having an inflation surge (a worker shortage should mean employers bidding up wages, right?).

And yet that is what has happened, with the April employment numbers putting an exclamation point on the trend. The jobless rate receded to its lowest level in five decades. Employers also added 263,000 jobs; the job creation estimates of previous months were revised up; and average hourly earnings continued to rise at a steady rate — up 3.2 percent over the last year.

. . .

. . . beyond the assigning of credit or blame, there’s a bigger lesson in the job market’s remarkably strong performance: about the limits of knowledge when it comes to something as complex as the $20 trillion U.S. economy.

. . .

The results of the last few years make you wonder whether we’ve been too pessimistic about just how hot the United States economy can run without inflation or other negative effects.

There are even early signs that the tight labor market may be contributing to, or at least coinciding with, a surge in worker productivity, which if sustained would fuel higher wages and living standards over time. That further supports the case for the Fed and other policymakers to let the expansion rip rather than trying to hold it back.

For the full commentary, see:

Neil Irwin. “An Economic Boom That Might Be Changing the Rules.” The New York Times (Saturday, May 4, 2019): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2019, and has the title “The Economy That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen: Booming Jobs, Low Inflation.”)

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