When somebody asks you to guess the monthly US jobs number, just say 200,000

You can just guess.
You can just guess.
Image: Euters/Kevin Lamarque
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The US economy added 228,000 new jobs last month, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Before the announcement, the consensus among analysts was for 200,000 jobs, according to Reuters. That’s a good forecast to make pretty much any month.

This report is eagerly awaited every month by traders, and it almost always moves the market. Traders look to payroll data for insight into how the Federal Reserve will steer monetary policy. But turns out that when you take the long view, such as a 12-month moving average, the monthly payroll gains have hardly varied much from 200,000 in recent years.

With November’s gain, the US economy has recorded 86 consecutive months of job growth. That might not be as good news as it seems. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank, argues that the labor market actually needs more disruption—including job losses—to boost economic and productivity growth. Instead, there’s been very little churn in the types of jobs people do, leading to stagnation.

This could also lead to a much-needed shake up in another part of the labor market that has been lackluster: wages. In November, average hourly earnings rose 2.5% from a year earlier, roughly the same as the rest of the year and not far above inflation.