Top Stat: Average hourly earnings (inflation-adjusted) down about 3.0% year-over-year
Key Point: The economy will get worse before it gets better because of bad policies out of D.C.
Overview: The shutdown recession from February to April 2020 and subsequent government failures caused major destruction to Americans’ livelihoods, which includes a recession and high inflation. One policy mistake was Congress adding $6.5 trillion in deficit spending since January 2020 to reach the new high of $31.1 trillion in national debt, or more than $247,000 owed per taxpayer. Another mistake is the Federal Reserve monetizing so much debt, creating 40-year-high inflation rates. These policy mistakes have resulted in an artificially inflated boom that’s busting into what will likely be a long, deep recession with high inflation. The failed policies of the Biden administration, Congress, and the Fed must be replaced with a liberty-preserving, free-market, pro-growth approach so there are more opportunities to let people prosper.
Labor Market: Today, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a weaker U.S. jobs report for September 2022 than in recent months. The report shows that there were 263,000 net nonfarm jobs added last month, with 288,000 added in the private sector. The official U3 unemployment rate increased slightly to a historically low 3.5%, but challenges remain. These challenges include about a 3% decline in average hourly earnings (inflation-adjusted) over the last year, a 0.3 percentage point lower prime-age (25–54 years old) employment-population ratio at 80.2% than in February 2020, and a 1.1-percentage-point lower labor-force participation rate at 62.3% with at least three million people out of the labor force.
Moreover, since the shutdown recession ended in April 2020, total nonfarm jobs have increased by 22.5 million for an increase of 514,000 since the previous peak in February 2020. About 56% of these total jobs gained were during the Trump administration from April 2020 to January 2021 and 44% of them during the Biden administration thereafter. Private nonfarm jobs have increased by 22.1 million and are now up 1.1 million from the past peak. Similarly, about 6 out of 10 private jobs gained were during the Trump administration.
Adding to the concern is a “zombie economy.” This includes “zombie labor” as many workers are sitting on the sidelines and others are “quiet quitting” while there is a declining number of unfilled jobs than unemployed people. And that demand for labor is likely inflated from many “zombie firms,” which run on debt but are likely to lay off workers as costs of debt rise with interest rate increases. Small businesses slowly adding jobs in recent months and their sentiment remain near a half of a century low are worrying signs.
Economic Growth: The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’ data below show a comparison of real total gross domestic product(GDP), measured in chained 2012 dollars, and real private GDP, which excludes government consumption expenditures and gross investment.
The shutdown recession contracted at historic annualized rates because of individual responses and government-imposed shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, economic activity has had booms and busts because of inappropriately imposed government restrictions in response to the pandemic, even as there is little to no evidence that these restrictions helped. However, they did severely hurt people’s ability to exchange and work.
In 2021, the growth in nominal total GDP, measured in current dollars, was dominated by inflation, which distorts economic activity. The GDP implicit price deflator was up 6.1% for Q4-over-Q4 2021, representing half of the 12.2% increase in nominal total GDP. This inflation measure was up by 9.1% in Q2:2022—the highest since Q1:1981—for an 8.5% increase in nominal total GDP. There were two consecutive declines in real total (and private) GDP, indicating a recession.
This criterion has been used to date every recession since at least 1950. The Atlanta Fed’s early GDPNow projection on October 7, 2022, for real total GDP growth in Q3:2022 was 2.7%, which was a large revision up and the actual real GDP figures will be reported on October 27.
For historical comparison, the last expansion from June 2009 to February 2020 had average annualized growth of 2.3% in real total GDP and 2.8% in real private GDP. The earlier part of the expansion had slower real total GDP growth but had faster real private GDP growth. An explanation for this discrepancy is that deficit-spending in the latter period grew faster, contributing to crowding-out of the productive private sector. With excessive spending bloating the national debt thereafter, especially since the shutdown recession, the Fed has monetized much of the new debt instead of allowing many interest rates to rise to a market-determined rate. This resulted in higher inflation as there has been too much money chasing too few goods as their production has been overregulated and overtaxed. The consumer price index (CPI) is up by 8.3% in August 2022 over the last year—highest rate since January 1982. After adjusting total earnings in the private sector for CPI inflation, real total earnings are flat in August 2022 since February 2020 as inflation has limited people’s purchasing power. Elevated inflation will continue until the Fed more sharply reduces its balance sheet to provide a positive real federal funds rate target.
Just as inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon, high deficits and taxes are always and everywhere a spending problem. As the federal debt far exceeds U.S. GDP, and President Biden has proposed an irresponsible FY23 budget, America needs a fiscal rule like the Responsible American Budget (RAB) with a maximum spending limit based on population growth plus inflation. If Congress had followed this approach from 2002 to 2021, the (updated) $17.7 trillion national debt increase would instead have been a $1.1 trillion decrease (i.e., surplus) for a $18.8 trillion swing to the positive that would have reduced the cost to Americans. The Republican Study Committee recently noted the strength of this type of fiscal rule in its FY 2023 “Blueprint to Save America.” And the Federal Reserve should follow a monetary rule.
Bottom Line: Americans are struggling from bad policies out of D.C., which have resulted in a recession with high inflation.
Instead of passing massive spending bills, like passage of the “Inflation Reduction Act” that will result in higher taxes, more inflation, and deeper recession, the path forward should include pro-growth policies. These policies ought to be similar to those that supported historic prosperity from 2017 to 2019 that get government out of the way rather than the progressive policies of more spending, regulating, and taxing. The time is now for limited government with sound fiscal and monetary policy that provides more opportunities for people to work and have more paths out of poverty.
Originally posted at Pelican Institute
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.