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US ECONOMY
NO ... NOT REALLY UNEXPECTED

WP Opinion The economy is in the midst of something wonderful (and unexpected)


Original article:
Peter Burgess COMMENTARY

Peter Burgess
Opinion The economy is in the midst of something wonderful (and unexpected)

By the Editorial Board

August 4, 2023 at 3:55 p.m. EDT

Health-care instructor Aolion Doxie, right, works with Jamila Thomas at Naperville Wellness & Salt Cave in Naperville, Ill., on June 8. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

The U.S. economy is in the midst of a wonderful — and unexpected — workforce boom. More than 3.1 million workers joined the labor force in the past year, meaning these people started looking for jobs and, largely, are getting hired. Almost no one expected this. It’s a nearly 2 percent expansion of the labor force — something that has not occurred since the tech craze of July 1999 to July 2000 and was more common in the 1970s and 1980s.

Last year, many experts predicted a recession with soaring layoffs. They argued the only way to get inflation down was massive job loss. Instead, the country is experiencing what some economists are calling “immaculate disinflation,” in which inflation has cooled substantially while companies keep hiring. A key reason this is possible is the remarkable growth in the number of job seekers. More job hunters have helped to gradually bring down wage growth as companies aren’t quite as desperate for employees as they were last summer. And as people get hired, their earnings rise and they consume more.

Women are driving this labor force boom. With rising pay and more flexibility to work from home or adjust their hours, they are surging into the workforce. Labor force participation for women ages 25 to 54 hit an all-time high this summer, far surpassing pre-pandemic levels. There are especially strong gains for mothers of young children. The sectors on hiring sprees lately — health care, social assistance and government — are also ones where women have historically found the most opportunities. The result is women now make up half of all U.S. employees. That milestone was reached only twice before in modern U.S. history: just before the pandemic, and in 2009 after the Great Recession destroyed so many “muscle jobs.”

It’s clear that Americans still want to work, contrary to narratives that took root in recent years. There’s also an important message here for employers: Workers are a lot more eager to join companies that pay more and provide some flexibility.

This post-pandemic readjustment of the labor force could also spur a productivity boom. Data released this week showed a sizable jump in output per hour during the second quarter. There has been a mass migration away from low-skilled, low-paying jobs into higher-skilled, higher-paying jobs. Workers also say they are the happiest they have been in decades as they are in jobs that better suit their interests and lifestyles.

While much of this good news is the result of a tight labor market and an economy normalizing from the pandemic, the large government stimulus also played a role. We were among the skeptics who believed President Biden’s $1.5 trillion American Rescue Plan was too big. And it did contribute to high inflation. But there’s a case to be made that the government spending is helping sustain the job market — and propel growth — now. State and local government hiring has rebounded significantly, and there has been surprising strength in construction (which added close to 200,000 jobs over the past year) thanks to investments in infrastructure and manufacturing. Mr. Biden’s push to increase legal immigration as much as possible has also helped. If Congress would finally act on a comprehensive immigration plan, the benefits could be even larger.

The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus:
  • Opinion Editor David Shipley;
  • Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty;
  • Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy);
  • Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris);
  • David E. Hoffman (global public health);
  • James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors);
  • Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics);
  • Heather Long (economics);
  • Associate Editor Ruth Marcus;
  • Mili Mitra (public policy solutions and audience development);
  • Keith B. Richburg (foreign affairs); and
  • Molly Roberts (technology and society).
Also on the Editorial Board’s agenda

1/7
  • Wisconsin Republicans back off impeachment threat against justice
  • Bahrain’s hunger strike ends, for now, after concessions to prisoners
  • A Saudi court sentences a retired teacher to death based on tweets.
  • March 4 is a sensible day to start Trump’s Jan. 6 federal trial.
  • Uganda enforces draconian anti-gay law.
  • Arkansas should recognize AP African American Studies course.
2/7
Wisconsin state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) announced Tuesday that Republicans would allow the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau to draw legislative maps, a dramatic reversal after years of opposing such an approach to redistricting. A new liberal majority on the state Supreme Court is expected to throw out the current maps, which make Wisconsin the most gerrymandered state in America. Mr. Vos has been threatening to impeach Justice Janet Protasiewicz, whose election this spring flipped control of the court, in a bid to keep those maps. This led to understandable outcry. Now it seems Mr. Vos is backing off his impeachment threat and his efforts to keep the state gerrymandered. Read our editorial on the Protasiewicz election here.

3/7
Prisoners are eating again in Bahrain after the government agreed to let them spend more hours outside and expanded their access to visitors, a welcome development ahead of the crown prince’s visit to Washington this week. Activists say the monthlong hunger strike will resume on Sept. 30 if these promises aren’t kept. Read our editorial calling for the compassionate release of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a political prisoner since 2011 who participated in the strike.

4/7
A retired teacher in Saudi Arabia, Muhammad al-Ghamdi, has been sentenced to death by the country’s Specialized Criminal Court solely based on his tweets, retweets and YouTube activity, according to Human Rights Watch. The court’s verdict, July 10, was based on two accounts on X, formerly Twitter, which had only a handful of followers. The posts criticized the royal family. The sentence is the latest example of dictatorships imposing harsh sentences on people who use social media for free expression, highlighted in our February editorial.

5/7
During a Monday hearing, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan rejected as “far beyond what is necessary” Donald Trump’s demand to postpone until mid-2026 his trial for allegedly obstructing the results of the 2020 election. Instead, she plans to begin the trial on March 4 — the day before Super Tuesday. Six months is more than enough time for defense counsel to prepare. GOP primary voters deserve to know the outcome when choosing their standard-bearer. Read our recent editorial on why these charges against Trump are warranted.

6/7
Uganda has charged a 20-year-old man with aggravated homosexuality, which carries a possible death sentence, in the first known use of its anti-gay law enacted in May. Shamefully, homosexuality is a crime in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries. Nigeria announced Tuesday that 67 people were just arrested for celebrating a gay wedding. When President Biden visits Africa later this year, he shouldn’t reward any country that bans homosexuality. Read our recent editorial on Africa’s backward march on LGBTQ rights.

7/7
On the Friday before school restarted in Arkansas, the state announced that the Advanced Placement African American Studies course will not count for academic credit toward graduation. Gov. Sarah Sanders (R) ordered education secretary Jacob Oliva, a former Ron DeSantis appointee she imported from Florida, to ensure students aren’t indoctrinated with critical race theory. The AP class does no such thing, and it’s encouraging that six schools are still offering the class as an elective. Read our recent editorial on Mr. DeSantis seeking to whitewash slavery in Florida’s curriculum.

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