Economy Watch: Employment Back to Pre-Recession Levels; Consumer Credit Up in April

Employment is back at an all-time high. U.S. consumer credit was up 10.4 percent in April compared with the same month in 2013.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Friday’s jobs report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was something of a milestone, in that total employment is now 98,000 above the previous peak, putting the number of employed Americans at an all-time high in May. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean a full recovery for the employment market because the U.S. population has been growing over the last six years or so, meaning that more people need jobs than ever before.

The report also detailed various structural shifts in employment demographics in recent years. Perhaps most importantly, the number of participants in the labor force has dropped in recent years, especially among the critical aged 24-to-54-year-old demographic. The participation rate among that age group is now about 82 percent, which represents of a steady drop since the late 1990s, when the percentage maxed out near 85 percent. The recession apparently augmented a worker dropout trend already in progess.

Historically, however, the 24-to-54 percentage is still much higher than during most previous decades, mainly as a result of more women entering the workforce since the 1970s. The percentage rose above 70 percent in 1966. By the 1980s, the labor participation percentage for people in their prime working ages was already above 80 percent.

In any case, the rise in employment in May 2014 was fairly healthy, and spread across a number of industries. Professional and business services, for instance, added 55,000 jobs in May, the same as its average monthly job gain over the last 12 months. Among other segments, computer systems design and related services, as well as management and technical consulting, all added jobs.

In May healthcare and social assistance added 55,000 jobs. Within leisure and hospitality, employment in food services and drinking places continued to grow, increasing by 32,000 in May and by 311,000 over the past year. Transportation and warehousing employment rose by 16,000 in May, considerably more than the average of 9,000 each month over the last year.

Consumer Credit Up in April

The Federal Reserve reported on Friday that total U.S. consumer credit was up 10.4 percent in April compared with the same month in 2013. Total outstanding credit, both revolving and non-revolving (essentially everything but real estate-related debt) was $3.2 trillion in April.

Revolving debt, mostly credit card loans, was $870.4 billion in April, up 12.3 percent since a year earlier. Non-revolving debt – car loans and student loans, mostly – came in at $2.304 trillion, up 9.5 percent since April 2013. A major factor in driving non-revolving loans to their new highs has been student loans, which now stand at $1.3 trillion, up from $831 billion at the end of 2009.

Wall Street reacted positively to the jobs numbers on Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 88.2 points, or 0.5 percent, while the S&P 500 was up 0.5 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.6 percent.


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