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    U.S. Job Growth Remains Strong, Defying Fed’s Rate Strategy

    Employers added 263,000 workers in November, even as some industries showed signs of a slowdown. Wage growth exceeded expectations.America’s jobs engine kept churning in November, the Labor Department reported Friday, a show of continued demand for workers despite the Federal Reserve’s push to curb inflation, largely by tamping down hiring.Employers added 263,000 jobs, even as a wave of layoffs in the tech industry made headlines. That was only a slight drop from the revised figure of 284,000 for October.The unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.7 percent, while wages were 5.1 percent higher than a year earlier, a bigger rise than expected.Those signs of strength perpetuate a strange duality: While a strong labor market may benefit workers in the short term, it could strengthen the Fed’s resolve to raise rates even further, which would increase the likelihood of a recession in 2023.“It upsets some of the narrative going into the report, which was that things are slowing down,” said Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro. “The reason that this matters for everyone is that the Fed still sees the labor market as the mechanism by which they can solve the inflation problem.”Despite steady employment growth, the impact of higher interest rates is already evident. Hiring in goods-producing sectors like manufacturing and residential construction — which are more sensitive to rising borrowing costs — has slowed substantially, and the number of hours worked fell, mainly because of those industries. But robust hiring in health care and hospitality, where wages have also grown most rapidly, powered continued gains.Wages continue to increase, though still not at the pace of inflationYear-over-year percentage change in earnings vs. inflation More

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    Why Are Middle-Aged Men Missing From the Labor Market?

    Men ages 35 to 44 are staging a lackluster rebound from pandemic job loss, despite a strong economy.For the past five months Paul Rizzo, 38, has been delivering food and groceries through the DoorDash app. But he spent the first half of 2022 earning no paycheck at all — reflecting a surprising trend among middle-aged men.After learning last Christmas that his job as an analyst at a hospital company was being automated, Mr. Rizzo chose to stay at home to care for his two young sons. His wife wanted to go back to work, and he was discouraged in his own career after more than a decade of corporate tumult and repeated disappointment. He thought he might be able to earn enough income on his investments to pull it off financially.Mr. Rizzo’s decision to step away from employment during his prime working years hints at one of the biggest surprises in today’s job market: Hundreds of thousands of men in their late 30s and early 40s stopped working during the pandemic and have lingered on the labor market’s sidelines since. While Mr. Rizzo has recently returned to earning money, many men his age seem to be staying out of the work force altogether. They are an anomaly, as employment rates have rebounded more fully for women of the same age and for both younger and older men.About 87 percent of men ages 35 to 44 were working as of October, down from 88.3 percent before the pandemic struck in 2020. The stubborn decline has spanned racial groups, but it has been most heavily concentrated among men who — like Mr. Rizzo — do not have a four-year college degree. The pullback comes despite the fact that wages are rising and job openings are plentiful, including in fields like truck driving and construction, where college degrees are not required and men tend to dominate.Economists have not determined any single factor that is keeping men from returning to work. Instead, they attribute the trend to a cocktail of changing social norms around parenthood and marriage, shifting opportunities, and lingering scars of the 2008 to 2009 downturn — which cost many people in that age group jobs just as they were starting their careers.“Now, all of a sudden, you’re kind of getting your life together, and if you’re in the wrong industry …” Mr. Rizzo said, trailing off as he discussed his recent labor market experience. “I wasn’t the only one who dropped out. I can tell you that.”How male employment shifted during the pandemicMen ages 35-44 are working at a notably lower rate than before the pandemic.

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    Change in male employment rate since Feb. 2020 by age group
    Note: Three-month rolling average of seasonally adjusted dataSource: Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York TimesHow female employment shifted during the pandemicWomen’s employment has rebounded across age groups.

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    Change in female employment rate since Feb. 2020 by age group
    Note: Three-month rolling average of seasonally adjusted dataSource: Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York TimesMen have been withdrawing from the labor force for decades. In the years following World War II, more than 97 percent of men in their prime working years — defined by economists as ages 25 to 54 — were working or actively looking for work, according to federal data. But starting in the 1960s, that share began to fall, mirroring the decline in domestic manufacturing jobs.What is new is that a small demographic slice — men who were early in their careers during the 2008 recession — seems to be most heavily affected.“I think there’s a lot of very discouraged people out there,” said Jane Oates, a former Labor Department official who now heads WorkingNation, a nonprofit focused on work force development. Men lost jobs in astonishing numbers during the 2008 financial crisis as the construction and home-building industries contracted. It took years to regain that ground — for men who were then in their 20s and early 30s and just getting started in their careers, employment rates never fully recovered. Economists came up with a range of explanations for the men’s slow return to the labor force. After the war on crime of the 1980s and 1990s, more men had criminal records that made it difficult to land jobs. The rise of opioid addiction had sidelined others. Video games had improved in quality, so staying home might have become more attractive. And the decline of nuclear family units may have diminished the traditional male role as economic provider.Now, recent history appears to be repeating itself — but for one specific age group. The question is why 35- to 44-year-old men seem to be staying out of work more than other demographics.Patricia Blumenauer, vice president of data and operations at Philadelphia Works, a work force development agency, said she had observed a dip in the number of men in that age range coming in for services. A disproportionately high share of those who do come in leave without taking a job.Ms. Blumenauer said that age range is a group “that we’re not seeing show up.” She thinks some men who lost their blue-collar jobs early in the pandemic may be looking for something with flexibility and higher pay. “The ability to work from home three days a week, or have a four-day weekend — things that other jobs have figured out — aren’t possible for those types of occupations.”When men don’t find those flexible jobs or can’t compete for them, they might choose to make ends meet by staying with relatives or doing under-the-table work, Ms. Blumenauer said.The pandemic has probably also slowed America’s already-weak family formation, giving single or childless men less of an incentive to settle into steady jobs, said the economist Ariel Binder. On the flip side, disruptions to schooling and child care meant that some men who already had families may have stopped doing paid work to take on more household tasks.“So on the one hand you get these men who are just not expecting to have a stable romantic relationship for most of their lives and are setting their time use accordingly,” Dr. Binder said. “Then there are men who are participating in these family structures, but doing so in nontraditional ways.”Like labor force experts, government data suggest that a combination of forces are at play.A growing number of men do seem to be taking on more child care duties, time use and other survey data suggests. But a shift toward being stay-at-home dads is unlikely to be the full story: Employment trends look the same for men in the age group who report having young kids living with them and those who don’t.What clearly does matter is education. The employment decline is more heavily concentrated among people who have not graduated from college and who live in metropolitan areas or suburbs, based on detailed government survey data.An education gap among menMen without a four-year college degree have returned to work more slowly than others in the same age group.

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    Change in employment rate for people ages 35-44
    Note: Three-month rolling average of seasonally adjusted data.Source: Current Population Survey via IPUMSBy The New York TimesSome economists speculate that the disproportionate decline could be because the age group has been buffeted by repeated crises, making their labor market footing fragile. They lost work early in their careers in 2008, faced a slow recovery after and found their jobs at risk again amid 2020 layoffs and an ongoing shift toward automation.“This group has been hit by automation, by globalization,” said David Dorn, a Swiss economist who studies labor markets.That fragility theory makes sense to Mr. Rizzo.He had seen the Navy as his ticket out of poverty in Louisiana and had expected to have a career in the service until he broke his back during basic training. He retired from the military after a few years. Then he pivoted, earning a two-year degree in Georgia and beginning a bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University — with dreams of one day working to cure cancer.Then the Great Recession hit. Mr. Rizzo had been working nights in a laboratory to afford rent and tuition, but the job ended abruptly in 2009. Phoenix was ground zero for the financial implosion’s fallout.Frantic job applications yielded nothing, and Mr. Rizzo had to drop out of school. Worse, he found himself staring down imminent homelessness. His tax refund saved him by allowing him and his wife to move back to Louisiana, where jobs were more plentiful. But after they divorced, he hit a low point.“I had nothing to show for my life after my 20s,” he explained.Mr. Rizzo spent the next decade rebuilding. He worked his way through various corporate positions where he taught himself skills in Excel and Microsoft SharePoint, married again, had two sons and bought a house.Yet he was regularly at risk of losing work to downsizing or technology — including late last year. The company he worked for wanted him to move into a new role, perhaps as a traveling salesperson, when his desk job disappeared. But his sons have special needs and that was not an option.He quit in January. He watched the kids, posted on his investment-related YouTube channel and watched Netflix. He thought he might be able to live on military payments and dividend income, becoming part of the “Financial Independence, Retire Early,” or FIRE, trend. But then the Federal Reserve raised interest rates and markets gyrated.“I got FIRE, all right,” he said. “My whole portfolio got set on fire.”Mr. Rizzo, who began working for DoorDash in July, making a delivery in Kenner.Emily Kask for The New York TimesMr. Rizzo turned to DoorDash, earning his first paycheck on July 4. While he is technically back in the labor market, gig work like his isn’t well measured in jobs data. If many men are taking a similar path but do not work every week, they might be overlooked in surveys, which ask if someone worked for pay in the previous week to determine whether they were employed.Mr. Rizzo is waiting to see what happens to his DoorDash income in an economic pullback before he rules out corporate work forever. Already, other dashers are complaining that business is slowing as people have spent down pandemic savings.The veteran counts himself fortunate. He knows men in his generation who have struggled to find any footing in the labor market.“It feels like it’s the after-affects of 2008 and 2009,” he said. “Everyone had to restart their lives from scratch.” More

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    Despite Inflation, Consumers Kept Up Their Spending in October

    Consumption climbed and personal income rose, even after accounting for inflation, new data from the Commerce Department showed.Americans continued spending in October, with personal consumption expenditures picking up even after adjusting for inflation, new data released Thursday showed.Consumption climbed 0.8 percent in October compared with the prior month, up from a previous gain of 0.6 percent. Adjusted for inflation, spending climbed by 0.5 percent.While economists expected those gains, they underscore that consumers remain resilient in the face of rapid price increases and rising interest rates. The Federal Reserve has lifted borrowing costs at the most aggressive pace since the 1980s this year, making it more expensive to borrow on a credit card or to buy a car.Despite that, Americans continue to open their wallets. More recent anecdotal data suggest that the holiday shopping season is off to a strong start: Retail sales over the Thanksgiving weekend were up 10.9 percent from the prior year, excluding cars and not adjusting for inflation, based on Mastercard data.But people are also becoming more price sensitive as their savings run down and expensive food and gas weigh on family budgets, and stores have begun to discount products again to lure and retain customers. That could help to lower inflation, if it is drastic enough and continues.Americans are being buoyed in part by a strong labor market that is helping them to take home more money, and by one-time payments from states, some of which have stimulus money left to disperse or are benefiting from strong tax receipts.Personal income rose by 0.7 percent in October, and 0.4 percent after adjusting for inflation, Thursday’s data showed. That was the biggest inflation-adjusted increase since July.Personal income includes government social benefits, which helped to boost it this month, “primarily reflecting one-time refundable tax credits issued by states,” the Bureau of Economic Analysis said in its release. More

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    Job Openings Ease, but Layoffs Are Little Changed

    Government data for October shows the labor market is still strong, though cooling slightly.Employers continued to pull back in October on the number of jobs they were looking to fill, the latest sign that the labor market is strong but gradually cooling.About 10.3 million positions were open on the last day of October, the Labor Department said Wednesday, down from 10.7 million the previous month. Vacant positions in October effectively equaled the level in August, seasonally adjusted.Reductions in job openings occurred in a broad range of industries including manufacturing, construction, professional and businesses services, and state and local government. Still, openings in every major industry remained above prepandemic levels, underscoring the persistent strength in the labor market despite higher borrowing costs.The Federal Reserve is trying to constrain hiring in its efforts to tame inflation, concerned that a hot job market is forcing employers to raise wages, contributing to soaring prices.Other measures in the report — the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS — affirm the labor market’s resilience. There were roughly 1.7 posted jobs for every unemployed worker, still extraordinarily high by historical standards.In recent weeks, a number of technology companies have announced sweeping layoffs. Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner, slashed the company’s work force in half in early November. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, shed 11,000 people, or about 13 percent of its workers.Even as the job cuts in the technology industry have dominated the headlines, however, layoffs across the entire economy in October were largely unchanged at 1.4 million, low by historical standards, suggesting that employers remain hesitant to part with workers after the pandemic-era hiring frenzy.The number of workers voluntarily quitting their jobs — an indicator of how confident workers are that they will be able to find better employment opportunities — ticked down but only slightly.Although the report overall pointed to continued elevated demand for workers, there were undeniable signs that the labor market is weakening.After a surprise jump in September, job openings resumed their march lower. There were four million quits in October, continuing the downward trend from the “Great Resignation” peak last year. The rate of people quitting their jobs — the number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs divided by total employment — was the lowest it had been since May 2021, at 2.6 percent.“Today’s JOLTS report shows that the job market is gradually slowing,” said Daniel Zhao, an economist at the career site Glassdoor. “And that’s in line with what we have been seeing in other data as well.”A more up-to-date readout of the economy will come on Friday, when the Labor Department releases data on monthly job growth and unemployment in November. Employers added 261,000 jobs in October. More

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    A Holiday Season Divided by Inflation and Economic Struggles

    Even if policymakers achieve a gentle economic slowdown, it won’t be smooth for everyone.Langham Hotel in Boston has plush suites and conference rooms. Across town, in Dorchester, people line up for Thanksgiving turkeys at Catholic Charities.November has been busier than expected at the Langham Hotel in Boston as luxury travelers book rooms in plush suites and hold meetings in gilded conference rooms. The $135-per-adult Thanksgiving brunch at its in-house restaurant sold out weeks ago.Across town, in Dorchester, demand has been booming for a different kind of food service. Catholic Charities is seeing so many families at its free pantry that Beth Chambers, vice president of basic needs at Catholic Charities Boston, has had to close early some days and tell patrons to come back first thing in the morning. On the frigid Saturday morning before Thanksgiving, patrons waiting for free turkeys began to line the street at 4:30 a.m. — more than four hours before the pantry opened.The contrast illustrates a divide that is rippling through America’s topsy-turvy economy nearly three years into the pandemic. Many well-off consumers are still flush with savings and faring well financially, bolstering luxury brands and keeping some high-end retailers and travel companies optimistic about the holiday season. At the same time, America’s poor are running low on cash buffers, struggling to keep up with rising prices and facing climbing borrowing costs if they use credit cards or loans to make ends meet.The situation underlines a grim reality of the pandemic era. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates to make borrowing more expensive and temper demand, hoping to cool the economy and bring the fastest inflation in decades back under control. Central bankers are trying to manage that without a recession that leaves families out of work. But the adjustment period is already a painful one for many Americans — evidence that even if the central bank can pull off a so-called “soft landing,” it won’t feel benign to everyone.“A lot of these households are moving toward the greater fragility that was the norm before the pandemic,” said Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank.Many working-class households fared well in 2020 and 2021. Though they lost jobs rapidly at the outset of the pandemic, hiring rebounded swiftly, wage growth has been strong, and repeated government relief checks helped families amass savings.But after 18 months of rapid price inflation — some of which was driven by stimulus-fueled demand — the poor are depleting those cushions. American families were still sitting on about $1.7 trillion in excess savings — extra savings accumulated during the pandemic — by the middle of this year, based on Fed estimates, but about $1.35 trillion of it was held by the top half of earners and just $350 billion in the bottom half.At the same time, prices climbed 7.7 percent in the year through October, far faster than the roughly 2 percent pace that was normal before the pandemic. As savings have run down and necessities like car repair, food and housing become sharply more expensive, many people in lower-income neighborhoods have begun turning to credit cards to sustain their spending. Balances for that group are now above 2019 levels, New York Fed research shows. Some are struggling to keep up at all.“With the cost of food, the explosive cost of eggs, people are having to come to us more,” said Ms. Chambers of Catholic Charities, explaining that other rising prices, including rent, are intensifying the struggle. The location planned to give out 1,000 turkeys and 600 gift cards for turkeys, at its holiday distribution, along with bags of canned creamed corn, cranberry sauce and other Thanksgiving fare.Tina Obadiaru, 42, was among those who lined up to get a turkey on Saturday. A mother of seven, she works full time caring for residents at a group home, but it isn’t enough to make ends meet for her and her family, especially after her Dorchester rent jumped last month to $2,500 from $2,000.“It is going to be really difficult,” she said.The disproportionate burden inflation places on the poor is one reason Fed officials are scrambling to quickly bring price increases back under control. Central bankers have lifted interest rates from near zero earlier this year to nearly 4 percent, and have signaled that there are more to come.But the process of lowering inflation is also likely to hurt for lower-income people. Fed policies work partly by making it expensive to borrow to sustain consumption, which causes demand to decline and eventually forces sellers to charge less. Rate increases also slow down the labor market, cooling wage growth and possibly even costing jobs.Catholic Charities has seen a surge in demand for food.November has been busier than expected at the Langham Hotel.That means that the solid labor market that has buoyed the working class through this challenging time — one that has particularly pushed up wages in lower-paying jobs, including leisure and hospitality, and transportation — could soon crack. In fact, Fed officials are watching for a slowdown in spending and pay gains as a sign that their policies are working.“While higher interest rates, slower growth and softer labor market conditions will bring down inflation, they will also bring some pain to households and businesses,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said at a key Fed conference in August. “These are the unfortunate costs of reducing inflation.”Central bankers believe that a measure of pain today is better than what would happen if inflation were allowed to continue unchecked. If people and businesses begin to expect rapid price increases and act accordingly — asking for big raises, instituting frequent and large price increases — inflation could become entrenched in the economy. It would then take a more punishing policy response to bring it to heel, one that could push unemployment even higher.But evidence accumulating across the economy underscores that the slowdown the Fed has been engineering, however necessary, is likely to feel different across different income groups.Consumer spending overall has so far been resilient to the Fed’s rate moves. Retail sales data moderated notably early in the year, but have recently picked back up. Personal consumption expenditures aren’t expanding at a breakneck pace, but they continue to grow.Yet underneath those aggregate numbers, a nascent shift appears to be underway — one that highlights the growing divide in economic comfort between the rich and the poor. Credit card data from Bank of America suggest that high- and middle-income households have replaced lower-income households in driving consumption growth in recent months. Poorer shoppers contributed one-fifth of the growth in discretionary spending in October, compared with around two-fifths a year earlier.“This is likely due to lower-income groups being the most negatively impacted by surging prices — they have also seen the biggest drawdown of bank savings,” economists at the Bank of America Institute wrote in a Nov. 10 note.Even if the poor feel the squeeze of elevated prices and higher interest rates and pull back, the economists noted that continued economic health among richer consumers could keep demand strong in areas where wealthier people tend to spend their money, including services like travel and hotels.At the Langham, a newly renovated hotel in a century-old building that originally served as the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, there is little to suggest an impending slowdown in spending. In “The Fed,” the hotel bar named in a nod to the building’s heritage, bartenders are busy every weeknight slinging cocktails with names like “Trust Fund Baby” and “Apple Butter Me Up” (both $16). When guests come back from shopping on nearby Newbury Street, the hotel’s managing director, Michele Grosso, said, their arms are full of bags. He sees the fact that the Thanksgiving brunch sold out so fast as emblematic of continued demand.“If people were pulling back, we’d still be promoting,” he said of the three-course, family-style meal. “Instead, we’ve got a waiting list.”The consumption divide playing out in Boston is also clear at a national level, echoing through corporate earnings calls. American Express added customers for platinum and gold cards at a record clip in the United States last quarter, for instance, as it reported “great demand” for premium, fee-based products.The $135-per-adult Thanksgiving Brunch at the Langham Hotel sold out weeks ago.Food to be distributed at Catholic Charities, which has been giving out Turkeys, cranberry sauce and other Thanksgiving fare.“As we sit here today, we see no changes in the spending behaviors of our customers,” Stephen J. Squeri, the company’s chief executive, told investors during an earnings call last month.Companies that serve more low-income consumers, however, are reporting a marked pullback.“Many consumers this year have relied on borrowing or dipping into their savings to manage their weekly budgets,” Brian Cornell, the chief executive of Target, said in an earnings call on Nov. 16. “But for many consumers, those options are starting to run out. As a result, our guests are exhibiting increasing price sensitivity, becoming more focused on and responsive to promotions and more hesitant to purchase at full price.”The split makes it hard to guess what will happen next with spending and inflation. Some economists think the return of price sensitivity among lower-income consumers will be enough to help overall costs moderate, paving the way for a notable slowdown in 2023.“You get more promotional activity, and companies starting to compete for market share,” said Julia Coronado, founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives.But others warn that, even if the very poor are struggling, it may not be sufficient to bring spending and prices down meaningfully.Many families paid off their credit card balances during the pandemic, and that is now reversing, despite high credit card rates. The borrowing could help some households sustain their consumption for a while, especially paired with strong employment gains and recently fallen gas prices, said Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro.As the world waits to see whether the Fed can slow down the economy enough to control inflation without forcing the country into an outright recession, those coming to Catholic Charities in Boston illustrate why the stakes are so high. Though many have jobs, they have been buffeted by months of rapid price increases and now face an uncertain future.“Before the pandemic, we thought in cases,” Ms. Chambers said, referencing how much food is needed to meet local need. “Now we think only in pallets.” More