Archive for the ‘Help Wanted’ category

Not With a Bang But With a Whimper

July 26, 2016

The U.S. economy is currently in its 86 month of an economic expansion that began in the summer of 2009 according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the organization that officially dates U.S. business cycles. If the expansion lasts another seven months (as it will), it will be the third longest economic expansion in our nation’s history, trailing only the 120 month expansion from 1991 to 2001 and the 106 month expansion from  1961 to 1969.

The probability of recession in the next six months is low but the business cycle hasn’t been repealed, another recession will occur and almost certainly sometime before the end of 2019.  It’s just that none of the excesses – wage and price growth, high energy prices, inflationary pressures, inflated asset values, etc.- that have preceded past recession are much apparent in today’s economy and there aren’t signs that any are imminent.  What will make the next recession unique in the post WWII era is that it may very well occur before the nation has fully recovered from the previous recession, despite how long the current recovery has lasted.  “Fully recovered” here means that the actual output of the nation’s economy (GDP) reaches its potential output (for a brief explanation of actual and potential output of the economy see this Congressional Budget Office publication). This is somewhat akin to feeling the effects of a hangover in the morning despite not having enjoyed the celebration the night before.  Unlike the last recession, or most recessions, the next one may not begin with a bang but rather with a whimper.

No expansion can last forever; the U.S. and the NH economies are showing signs of slowing so it is difficult for me to believe that the nation can avoid slipping into recession sometime during the first term of our next president.  If that President is named Clinton it will most likely mean a one-term presidency as three consecutive terms for an incumbent party (relatively rare in itself) along with a recession in the third term (unless is happens very early in her term allowing sufficient time for growth prior to 2020) would almost certainly result in the nation looking for a change in the party controlling the White House.  If the President is named Trump he will no doubt blame the recession on the past administration and that may help give him a pass in 2020, but a recession will challenge his claim as someone who knows how to create jobs, while his penchant for populist and nationalistic themes aren’t generally viewed as monetary and fiscal policies effective in combating a recession.  His administration’s and his personal  response to the recession might determine his fate (does anyone else remember the images of the first, single-term, President Bush zooming around in his cigarette boat off the coast of Maine while the U.S. was in the middle of the 1990-91 recession?).

The past two months have been marked by one very bad and one very good month for job growth in the nation and in NH.  I  advocate looking at three months of job growth numbers in discerning employment growth trends and a prudent man would wait for the release of the nation’s July job growth numbers on August 5th before making any proclamations about the direction of the U.S. or NH economy.  But a prudent man doesn’t write this blog and I am comfortable knowing that when you right too early it often seems like you are wrong so here are a few of the more accessible  indicators that I believe suggest slower economic growth moving forward.  There are others but jobs and revenues are what interest policymakers most so they are highlighted here.

  • The rate of private sector job growth has slowed.
  • The number of industries that are adding jobs versus the number shedding jobs (the employment diffusion index) has declined.
  • Help wanted advertising is declining.
  • Nationally, state corporate income tax collections appear to have peaked.

Slowing Private Employment Growth

Recognizing that there is always some level of unemployment in the economy, the nation and NH are at or very near “full employment,” making  job gains harder to obtain.  Full employment in the latter stages of recovery is the most obvious rationale for slower job growth going forward.  As the chart below shows, growth in private sector employment nationally is still solid but has been trending downward for some time while growth in NH accelerated in 2015 but appears to have peaked in early 2016.

private sector job growth

The Breadth of Job Gains Narrows

I use a 13 industry private employment diffusion index to assess the breadth of job growth across the private sector economy.  When more industries are adding jobs than are shedding jobs, the index is below .50 and the greater the number of industries adding jobs compared to those shedding jobs the higher is the index number.  The chart below shows that both the national and NH diffusion index have dropped, with NH’s decline of particular concern as it now stands below .50 on a three month moving average basis. NH’s employment numbers are often substantially revised so this index value may not be as bad as it appears here but the U.S. number still points to a slowdown.

diffusion index

Historically, significant declines in NH’s employment diffusion index have signaled turning points in the state’s labor market. The relationship between NH’s diffusion index value and the rate of year-over-year private sector job growth four months later is strong (a correlation of .82).  A simple linear regression of the NH diffusion index on private sector employment growth suggests the last two quarters of 2016 will see private employment growth in NH of about 0.6% on an annualized basis compared to the current rate of growth of about 2.0%.  Clearly not in danger of recession but definitely a slowdown.

diffusion index and emp growth

Fewer Help Wanted Ads

Nationally and in NH the number of help wanted ads has declined in recent months.  In NH the relationship between the three month moving average of help wanted ads and job growth in the quarter that follows is strong (R= .80).

NH US Help Wanted

Growth in State Corporate Income Tax Collections Has Peaked

Nationally, the rate of growth in state corporate income taxes is declining (chart below).

corporate tax revenues

The chart shows that compared to all states combined, the growth in NH’s business tax revenues is increasing as the growth rate nationally declines.  This despite the fact that NH’s private sector employment growth has been at about the U.S. average over the past year.  What is different in NH is the inclusion of NH’s Business Enterprise Tax revenue along with NH’s tax on corporate profits in the chart above.  Both private employment and wage growth have accelerated in NH over the past year. Wages and salaries paid by a business are the largest portion of the Business Enterprise Tax base so even as business profits grow more slowly, business tax revenues can be buoyed by substantial increases in overall wages and salaries.  While not a measure of the payroll of NH businesses, wage and salary income increased in NH by 8.6 percent between QI 2015 and QI 2016 compared to 5.3 percent nationally.  That increase has helped boost Business Enterprise Tax revenue and overall business tax revenue in NH in a way that it cannot in other states (most other states would see the change in individual income tax revenue).  The trend is depicted in the chart below that shows the growth rate of the annualized business profits portion of NH’s business tax revenue has slipped while the growth rate of the portion more dependent on wages and salaries has seen accelerated growth.  A slowing growth rate in private employment in NH implies slower growth in wages and salaries and business tax revenues in the state growing more similarly to the pattern among states nationally.  This will occur just as a budget surplus and strong overall revenue growth have increased pressures for additional state spending that had been muted by several years of relatively weak business tax and overall revenue growth.

NH business tax revenue growth

It is impossible to predict monthly payroll employment growth for a small state like NH (or any state for that matter) but I predict employment growth of about 120,000 jobs nationally in July but anything between 100,000 and 150,000 would be in line with the indicators highlighted in this post and consistent with a gradual slowing of economic growth nationally and in NH. Not soon but at some point that slowing will become a recession and that will be the reward for winning the White House and for new and incumbent occupants of statehouses across the nation.

What Do Help Wanted Ads Say About the “Skills Gap”?

April 18, 2013

It has been quite a while since I wrote about some of my favorite topics, the “skills gap” and occupational supply and demand.  But since there are recent media reports about the issue and more and new or renewed groups in NH looking to influence the debates and discussions on the issue, let me once again add my $.02.

I’ve made the plea for empirical rather than anecdotal or ideological evidence on the issue and produced a little evidence myself that both points to a skills gap as a contributor to slower than desired employment growth as well as evidence that suggests the issue may not be as prominent an explanation for slower job growth as some believe.  I’ve also noted the larger economic policy debate that engulfs the skills gap issue.  The data I’ve presented in this blog only hints at  answers to the fundamental question of whether slower job growth is more of a problem of labor supply (the number and/or quality available workers with the education, skills and training desitred by employers), or one more of labor demand (not enough employers looking to hire qualified, educated and skilled workers in NH).  I think the charts below  again provide some clues to labor supply and demand trends in NH and also illustrate some bigger trends in the NH economy.

The first chart most directly addresses the skills gap issue.  It shows that in terms of broad occupational groupings, professional and technical job openings are the largest component of on-line help wanted advertisements in NH.  Because these tend to be among the most-skilled and highest-paying jobs we assume that if there were a sufficient supply of labor then job growth in the industries that most employee these occupations would be relatively strong.  In fact, one  industry grouping – business and professional services  – employs a lot of professional and technical occupations and it is growing almost twice as fast as is overall private sector employment in NH.

The crux of the skills gap issue is this: “would a larger or better qualified supply of individuals in these occupations result in faster job growth in NH, or are there other or complimentary factors that also need to contribute to faster growth?”   How you define the problem of slower job growth also largely defines the range of your solutions. Increasingly, and I think somewhat disappointingly,  it also seems to define your ideology (if you have one).

March 2013 HW

The chart  below is less sanguine.  It shows that compared to the same month in 2012, March 2013 help wanted ads in NH for professional and technical ads declined by more than 10 percent.  One month isn’t a trend but recent months have shown more weakness than strength in this indicator.  The chart also shows that the largest improvements in labor demand are not among the most skilled occupations, although changes in the occupational make-up of manufacturing industries makes it increasingly likely that production workers will  have higher levels of education, training and skills.

Pct Change in HW in March

 

Even A Broken Clock is Accurate Twice a Day

March 8, 2013

I am frequently in error but rarely in doubt, so when I am right I have to make sure someone notices.  Good news was reported today  on job growth nationally, as an estimated 236,000 jobs were added across the country in February.   I hate to sound jaded but in each of the prior two years job growth looked to be accelerating early in the year only to experience a significant mid-year  slump.  For now, however,  it is a positive sign.  I have been especially and uncharacteristically gloomy in my characterization of NH’s economy but there was some little reported good news on that front released last week.  The annual benchmark employment revisions showed that NH has 9,600 more jobs than originally estimated.  I won’t get into why the revisions are necessary and can result in some significant changes in the numbers  but in my very first post in this blog back in October I highlighted the disconnect between the volume of  help-wanted advertising in NH and estimates of job growth in the state.

“In the first ever Trend Lines blog post I begin by asking a basic question:  Could the most recent job growth picture in NH be distorted by numbers that will later be revised?”

I also suggested that growth trends in reported wages and salaries  in the state were also inconsistent with estimated job growth trends. In that post and in subsequent  posts (here and here) and others as well, I talked about a potential “skills gap” as a contributor to the disconnect between help-wanted ads and NH’s reported job growth.  I think a “skills gap” is a contributing factor  but as I argued in my first and subsequent  posts –  my money is on job growth being revised upward.  It is nice to be right but it really doesn’t change the overall theme of NH’s economy- that it continues to under perform relative to states it typically outperforms.  That was also predictable:

“…that the jobs data is wrong and will be revised upward early next year, is real,  but that doesn’t mean the revisions will show NH is again outperforming its neighbors or the nation.  It just means we will look less bad over the past year or so than we do right now.”

Five months later I think that still  sums-up my feelings about the revisions, its good to know we have more jobs but we are still in a growth mode that is too slow.  With the revised job numbers for NH the relationship between help-wanted advertising and reported job growth looks more appropriate.

NH Revised Emp

The revised job numbers also are more consistent with PolEcon’s NH Leading Index which had been signalling stronger employment growth in NH than was first reported.  The revised job numbers are more consistent with the signals provided by the Leading Index.   That may not mean much to anyone but to me it means I won’t have to spend a lot of time re-calibrating the Index and that means a more enjoyable weekend.  Enjoy yours.

Leading index and revised emp

It Seems You Can’t Turn White Collars Blue

January 8, 2013

Two contradictory trends are occurring in NH’s labor market and as Ricky Ricardo would say “somebody’s got some splaining to do”.   I see no other hands up in the room so I will take a brief stab at it.  The chart below shows that help wanted ads in NH rose modestly this year but the rate of employment growth in the state has been declining.

Help wanted and Emp Growth iin NH

It is easy to rest things on, and to take things off, the top of a flat head so here are a few off the top of mine that could be influencing these trends: 1) It could be that more jobs are being advertised in NH but are for companies with multiple locations – including NH and nearby states (I think this is not likely to be having much affect), 2) advertised jobs are not being filled because there are not enough applicants companies want to hire – “the skills gap” again (I think this is significant based on conversations I’ve had with companies), 3) the job growth numbers in NH could be revised upward with the upcoming benchmark revisions (I think this is likely but it may not be as significant as I thought a few months ago).

Regular readers know I write too often about the skills gap.  I like the issue because it gets at so many issues of fundamental importance to the future of NH’s and the nation’s economy – education and training, k-12 and post-secondary education, young people and their guidance and direction etc.  The skills gap is most often associated with very skilled scientific and technical occupations but in NH at least, any skills gap may be more pronounced in production and skilled “blue collar” occupations.  Based on the volume of  help wanted advertising in the state since the recession, the demand for those occupations has increased significantly compared to management, financial, business, technical and scientific occupations.

Help Wanted by Occup Since Recession

Despite the large percentage increase in help wanted ads in production and skilled blue collar occupations, employment in industries that employ those occupations has grown little.  It may be that there is a lot of ‘churning” in those industries (some businesses hiring and some contracting) resulting in little net employment gain but the anecdotal evidence (I am reluctant to rely on such evidence but it is the best we have at the moment) is that many businesses who would hire production and skilled, blue collar workers are unable to find individuals to fill their positions.

It has been a relatively recent (over the last several decades) transition for NH to a more technology intensive economy that relies less on production and skilled, blue collar labor.  Once the core of the NH economy it has been a long while since NH was seen a a land of opportunity for those who worked with machines and tools (other than just  computers) and once you have moved on  it can be very hard to go back – even when there is a reward for doing so.

Help Wanted Ads Drop, Labor Supply-Demand Ratio Rises

December 3, 2012

Online help-wanted ads in New Hampshire declined again in November according to the Conference-Board,  although the number of ads remains substantially higher than it was in November of 2011.  All occupational categories saw a decline in help-wanted ads with the exception of construction, production and transportation workers.  This is consistent with anecdotal and some empirical evidence about the demand for production workers impacting employment growth as discussed in a November 21 post.  For the second month in a row the largest percentage decline in ads was in professional, technical, and scientific occupations, although this broad occupational grouping still has the largest year-over-year increase in help-wanted ads in New Hampshire  between November of 2011 and November of 2012.

Help Wanted and Unemp

The chart shows recent trends in help-wanted advertising in New Hampshire, along with the ratio of unemployed workers in New Hampshire to the number of help-wanted ads, the “supply-demand ratio” for labor in the state.  After falling to about 1.4 unemployed persons for every help-wanted ad in the state, the ratio has been slowly rising and now stands at about 1.7 unemployed for every help-wanted ad.  Of course this ratio says nothing about the match between the occupations of job seekers and the occupations advertised in the help-wanted ads, but regular readers know it won’t likely be long before I offer another “skills gap” post that discusses that issue.

Job Growth May Depend on Narrowing the “Skills Gap”

November 21, 2012

A quick review:  The “skills gap” explanation for slower employment growth this recovery posits that there are large numbers of jobs waiting to be filled but hiring is sub-par after the recession because of a lack of qualified candidates to fill those positions.  Twice I have presented some evidence on the issue, here and here.  Most of the concern and evidence about the existence of a skills gap addresses very high-skill technical, scientific, computer, and engineering occupations because our nation, and by extension our state, seem to perpetually be unable to produce enough individuals in those fields to satisfy industry demand.  As  a result we “import” a lot of that talent from foreign countries (more about this – I promise – in a future post).  There is some evidence of this in NH.  As the chart below shows, professional, scientific, and technology occupations are the largest,  broad category of help wanted ads in the state.  But they have also evidenced the smallest increase (a decrease actually) since the recession.  There is still a significant demand but it may be that an inability to find qualified applicants has companies in need of those occupations from considering more hiring in the Granite State.  A quick review of data for Massachusetts shows that demand for professional, scientific and technical occupations has increased during the same time period.

But  more direct evidence of a skills gap comes from the demand for construction and production workers.  I am especially interested in the potential skills gap for production workers.  The chart above shows that demand for construction, production, and transportation workers has increased significantly since the recession.  Although still a much smaller category of help-wanted ads than professional and technical jobs, the increased demand is consistent with anecdotal evidence I heard this week at a roundtable discussion of the Seacoast economy.  At that discussion, representatives from industry, higher education, and economic development organizations cited specific examples of companies frustrated at their ability to hire skilled production workers.   Some are forming partnerships with NH’s community college system to increase the supply of needed occupations.  Those initiatives show promise and I hope the state’s four-year colleges and universities develop more partnerships to address the skills gap in professional, scientific and technical occupations as well because, increasingly, job growth in NH appears to depend on it.

The Skills Gap Part Deux: Some Evidence and Who’s Fault is it Anyway?

November 2, 2012

A good national job growth report  was released today that showed private sector job growth was up 184,000 in October.  With government job losses at -13,000, total employment increased nationally by 171,000.   We  have to wait a few weeks to see NH’s job growth for the month but regardless of the number, the underlying causes of the state’s relatively slow recent  job growth still need to be debated .  A solid and empirically-based understanding of the  factors influencing job growth rates is the only way to formulate effective economic  policy in the state.  I am on record as saying (probably too often) that I believe NH’s job growth numbers will be revised upward at some point (probably with the annual revisions released early next year).  But even if that is true (errr, when it is conformed to be true),  by historical standards, recent job growth in NH will still have underperformed.   Whether job growth is slower now than in the past because employers are not willing to add additional workers or because they are not able to find qualified workers  (the “skills gap” argument) is among the most important issues to understand in setting both national and state-level economic policies.  If employers are unwilling to add employees that are readily available,  then the efforts to spur job growth focus more on factors affecting businesses (tax rates, regulations, costs etc.).  If job growth is constrained because employers are unable to find qualified workers to fill open positions, then the focus of efforts to spur job growth will be more effective if they look to increase the skills of the labor force, and/or better match them to the needs of employers.  In reality this is not an either or question because inadequate attention to the needs of either employers or the workforce will produce sub-optimal economic growth.  But in today’s polarized policy environment whatever light is shed on these issues is too often separated by an ideological prism that produces policy proposals aimed at either the needs of business or the needs of the workforce to the exclusion of the other.   If job growth is slowed because there are too few qualified workers to meet the needs of businesses then it is not policy maker’s  fault  but they can help alleviate the problem by adopting more “human capital” policies.  Businesses bear some of responsibility for any skills gap because studies have shown that businesses spend less time and money training workers than they did decades ago, and that more of the training that does occur is concentrated on management positions rather than mid- and lower- level positions.  In an age when job turnover has accelerated, and the tenure of workers with one businesses continues to decline, it is understandable that businesses would be less willing to invest in workers who may only be with their firm for a short while.  But who is more responsible for the decline in employer-employer loyalty and tenure?  The labor market has been signaling strong demand increases in many occupations – especially technical and scientific  occupations and increasingly skilled production occupations.  Older and experienced workers may have difficulty responding to these demands if their experience, education or training is in occupations in less demand but why are younger and new entrants to the labor market not responding  to these labor market signals by selecting the majors or training programs that would qualify them for more occupations in demand?  One reason is that regardless of whether or not the labor market is signaling many job opportunities in technical and scientific occupations (or skilled production occupations), if large numbers of the emerging workforce don’t have the intellectual and academic rigor to study these subjects the positions will increasingly go unfilled, go elsewhere, or as I will document in a later post, be filled by foreign born workers.

Ok, that was a bit of a rant, now back to the core issue.  Is there evidence of a skills gap in NH that is constraining job growth?  The answer of course, as it is with almost all economic issues,  is both yes and no and also something in-between and with a twist.  I will share this evidence across several postings, today I offer one, small bit of evidence that suggests the skills gap is playing a larger role in disappointing job growth trends.  I noted in an earlier post that help-wanted advertising has generally been on the rise in NH, while job growth has not.  Some of this will be corrected with job growth revisions, but evidence that a skills gap is playing a role comes in the form of the percentage of help-wanted ads each month that are “new ads”.  If help-wanted ads are rising and the number or percentage of new ads is rising similarly each month,  that means positions are being filled at a fairly consistent rate, but if the number of ads is increasing, but the percentage of ads that are “new ads” is declining, that suggest that positions are not being filled or taking longer to fill – perhaps suggesting employers are having a harder time filling the positions or a skills gap.  The chart below shows that indeed, the percentage of monthly help-wanted ads in NH that are :new ads” for the month has been slowly declining, providing some small bit of support for the skills gap explanation for job growth.  A lot more evidence is needed, but given the importance of the issue in policy making, it is worth the effort to find or refute it.


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