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What Are Labor Market Indicators?

By Michael Flannelly · December 20, 2022 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What Are Labor Market Indicators?

The labor market is a key component of the economy, as it represents the supply and demand for workers and their respective wages. Labor market indicators are statistics that reflect the state of the labor market, providing information about employment levels, wage growth, and other factors that can impact the overall economy.

A wide range of analysts, from economists to investors to business owners to policymakers, pay close attention to various labor market indicators to help gauge the state of the economy. These data can play a critical role in determining how investors and businesses make investment decisions and how policymakers shape laws and regulations that affect society.

What Is the Labor Market?

The labor market, also known as the job market, is where workers and employers come together to find jobs and workers, respectively. It is critical to the economy because the supply and demand for labor determines wages and other employment-related issues.

The labor market is influenced by various factors, including the overall health of the economy, the level of education and training of the workforce, and government policies that impact employment and wages. The labor market can also be affected by broader economic trends, such as globalization and technological change.

Strong employment levels, low unemployment, and rising wages characterize a healthy labor market. These developments may indicate a robust economy and can lead to improved living standards for workers and their families. On the other hand, a weak labor market can signal economic difficulties, like a recession, and result in lower wages and higher levels of unemployment.

The labor market plays a crucial role in the functioning of the economy. By paying attention to the labor market and labor market indicators, investors can better evaluate the health and well-being of the economy, which may help inform investment strategies.

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Common Labor Market Indicators

Investors, economists, and policymakers use several common economic indicators to evaluate the state of the labor market. These indicators, most of which are released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) , can provide valuable information about employment levels, wage growth, and other factors that can impact the economy.

Some of the most common labor market indicators include:

Unemployment Rate

One of the most closely watched labor market indicators is the unemployment rate, which is the percentage of the labor force that is not currently employed but is actively seeking work. This number can give insight into the overall health of the economy, as a high unemployment rate can indicate a sluggish economy. A low unemployment rate may signal a strong economy where most workers can find jobs.

The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed workers actively seeking work by the total number of individuals in the labor force (which includes both employed and unemployed workers). The unemployment rate is expressed as a percentage. For example, if there are 100 unemployed workers and 500 individuals in the labor force, the unemployment rate would be 20% (100/500 = 0.20).

Nonfarm Payrolls

Nonfarm payrolls, also known as nonfarm employment or total nonfarm payrolls, measure the number of people employed in the United States. The nonfarm payrolls number is derived from the monthly Employment Situation report (also known as the Jobs Report), which is based on a survey of nonfarm establishments. This survey excludes farm workers, private household workers, employees of nonprofit organizations, and other types of businesses.

The nonfarm payroll number is considered an essential indicator of the state of the labor market, as it provides information about employment levels across a wide range of industries. A rising nonfarm payroll number can indicate a strong labor market and a growing economy, while a falling number can signal economic difficulties.

Average Hourly Earnings

Average hourly earnings is a measure of the average wage earned by workers. Along with the nonfarm payrolls report, it is released monthly by the BLS and is considered an important indicator of wage growth and the well-being of workers.

Average hourly earnings are calculated by dividing the total wages paid to workers by the number of hours worked. This number is then expressed in terms of an average hourly wage. For example, if the total wages paid to workers are $100,000 and the total number of hours worked is 2,000, the average hourly earnings would be $50 per hour (100,000/2,000 = 50).

Average hourly earnings can provide valuable information about the state of the labor market and the well-being of workers. Rising average hourly earnings may indicate that workers are seeing their wages increase, which may signify a strong labor market and a growing economy. However, rising wages may be a cause of inflation. On the other hand, falling average hourly earnings may signal economic difficulties and stagnant wages.

Employment-to-Population Ratio

Another critical labor market indicator is the employment-to-population ratio, which is the percentage of the population that is currently employed. This indicator is calculated by dividing the number of employed individuals by the total population.

The employment-to-population ratio can give a sense of the extent to which the labor force is being utilized. A high employment-to-population ratio can indicate a strong labor market, while a low ratio can signal economic difficulties. Additionally, this ratio can also be used to compare the employment levels of different groups within the population. For example, analysts may use the ratio to compare the employment levels of men and women or to evaluate the employment levels of different age groups.

Labor Force Participation Rate

The labor force participation rate (LFPR) is the percentage of the population that is either employed or actively seeking work. It is calculated by dividing the number of individuals in the labor force (which includes both employed and unemployed workers) by the total population and is expressed as a percentage. The LFPR can provide information about the availability of workers in the labor market and can be used to evaluate trends in the workforce.

JOLTs

JOLTS, or the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, is a monthly survey conducted by the BLS. It provides data on job openings, hiring, separations (including layoffs, discharges, and quits), and other labor market dynamics in the United States.

The JOLTS data can provide insight into employment and job growth trends and can also be used to identify potential labor shortages or surpluses. For example, a high number of job openings and quits can indicate a strong labor market, while a low number can signal a weak labor market.

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Initial Jobless Claims

Initial jobless claims, also known as new unemployment claims or jobless claims, measure the number of individuals who have filed for unemployment benefits for the first time. This number is released weekly by the United States Department of Labor (DOL).

The number of initial jobless claims is a measure of the pace of layoffs in the economy. A rising number of initial jobless claims can lead to a weak labor market and a slowing economy. In contrast, a falling number can signal a strong labor market and a growing economy.

Continuing Jobless Claims

Continuing jobless claims, also known as continuing unemployment claims or continuing claims, is a measure of the number of individuals who have filed for unemployment benefits and have yet to find a job. Like initial jobless claims, this indicator is released weekly by the DOL.

The number of continuing jobless claims provides information about the number of individuals who have been unable to find work after filing for unemployment benefits. A high number of continuing jobless claims can indicate a weak labor market, suggesting that many workers are struggling to find employment. On the other hand, a low number of continuing jobless claims can signal a strong labor market, as it suggests that most workers can find jobs.

The Takeaway

Labor market indicators are an important tool for understanding the state of the economy and the health of the labor market. By tracking these indicators, you can better understand the factors that drive employment, wage growth, and the economy and make more informed decisions about your investments. Depending on the data, labor market indicators may show a strong economy, which may be a positive sign for your portfolio, or vice versa.

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