- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2018

If you can’t find a job right now, you might not be looking hard enough.

The U.S. economy is running so hot that businesses cannot find people to fill their want ads. The 7.1 million openings recorded at the end of October easily topped the 6 million people the Labor Department said were unemployed and actively seeking jobs at that point.

And contrary to some claims, it’s not a list of low-paying unappealing jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the openings included more than 20,000 jobs in the information sector, more than 38,000 in real estate and leasing, and nearly 40,000 in education, including state and local government jobs.

The reasons for the prime jobs picture are heatedly debated — Republicans say it’s because of their tax cuts; Democrats say it’s in spite of them — but the numbers are undeniable.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says it has data dating back to 2000 and that this is the first year it has recorded more job openings than unemployed people seeking work.

“The American economy is booming,” said Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council. “Even with a historically low, steady unemployment rate, we continue to see jobs added at a record pace.”

The White House Council of Economic Advisers offered a “data dump” of rosy benchmarks.

The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in a half-century. The rate for women the best it has been in 65 years, and the rate for blacks is at a 46-year low. Even among those without high school diplomas, the unemployment rate is at 5 percent.

Since 1970, the unemployment rate has been below 4 percent in just 12 months — half of them in 2018.

The good news is also remarkably widespread, with 47 states reporting unemployment rates below 5 percent. The only exceptions are Louisiana, West Virginia and Alaska, along with the District of Columbia, according to the bureau.

The most common complaint among employers is a lack of qualified applicants, but even that can be deceiving. In a recent National Federation of Independent Business survey, employers cited appearance, poor attitude and unrealistic salary expectations as bigger factors than, say, legal issues as causes of rejecting applicants.

“The ‘goal’ of our economic system is that everyone who wants a job can have a job,” said Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business. “This is about as close as it gets.”

Indications show that the U.S. has a “good jobs” market in addition to a good market for jobs.

“The ‘quality’ of the jobs will vary from low skilled to very skilled, with associated pay levels, and of course Main Street isn’t really high-tech,” Mr. Dunkelberg said. “Reports of pay raises are running at record-high levels, inducing people to switch jobs and people out of the labor force to re-enter, with more job choices and higher pay.”

To be sure, the outlook isn’t uniformly bright. President Trump has been uncharacteristically quiet about the economy on Twitter in recent weeks. When he has spoken, it has often been to criticize the Federal Reserve for interest rate increases in the face of negligible inflation.

Since the jump in interest rates last week, stock markets gave up most of the rest of their gains from the past two years under Mr. Trump.

The employment picture is further complicated by the one surrounding wages.

Wages have shown some improvement: The increase in pay across the past year has risen from 2.8 percent to 3.1 percent, marking the first time wage boosts have topped 3 percent since the end of the recession in 2009.

“As the economy is expanding and wages are rising thanks to President Trump’s regulatory and tax reform efforts, more and more Americans are coming off the sidelines and joining the workforce,” Mr. Kudlow said. “Blue-collar wages are rising more than they have in decades.”

But they still lag what analysts say is a healthy level.

“The truly unusual character of the expansion has been the failure of real wages to increase and close this supply/demand gap,” said Orley Ashenfelter, an economics professor at Princeton University.

“I think this mystery deepens by the month, and some have begun to wonder whether competition among employers has declined so much that it has affected labor markets more generally,” he said.

Despite some unwelcome big-business bombshells on the employment front — General Motors is giving 14,000 employees pink slips this month rather than Christmas bonuses — the forecast for small business remains solid, which should translate into more jobs.

The National Federation of Independent Business recorded a small dip in optimism in November, but the figures overall remain near the record highs they have hit since the 2016 presidential election.

All of it means that if someone wants a job, there is a job somewhere.

“If you want to expand, you’ve got find another person, and people are hard to find right now,” Mr. Dunkelberg said.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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