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    U.S. Economy: Has an Era of Increased Productivity Returned?

    Thirty years ago, the U.S. entered an era of productivity gains that enabled healthy growth. Experts are asking if it could happen again.The last time the American economy was posting surprising economic growth numbers amid rapid wage gains and moderating inflation, Ace of Base and All-4-One topped the Billboard charts and denim overalls were in vogue.Thirty years ago, officials at the Federal Reserve were hotly debating whether the economy could continue to chug along so vigorously without spurring a pickup in inflation. And back in 1994, it turned out that it could, thanks to one key ingredient: productivity.Now, official productivity data are showing a big pickup for the first time in years. The data have been volatile since the start of the pandemic, but with the dawn of new technologies like artificial intelligence and the embrace of hybrid work setups, some economists are asking whether the recent gains might be real — and whether they can turn into a lasting boom.If the answer is yes, it would have huge implications for the U.S. economy. Improved productivity would mean that firms could create more product per worker. And a steady pickup in productivity could allow the economy to take off in a healthy way. More productive companies are able to pay better wages without having to raise prices or sacrifice profits.Several of the trends in place today have parallels with what was happening in 1994 — but the differences explain why many economists are not ready to declare a turning point just yet.The Computer Age vs. the Zoom AgeBy the end of the 1980s, computers had been around for decades but had not yet generated big gains to productivity — what has come to be known as the productivity paradox. The economist Robert Solow famously said in 1987, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    For Michigan’s Economy, Electric Vehicles Are Promising and Scary

    Last fall, Tiffanie Simmons, a second-generation autoworker, endured a six-week strike at the Ford Motor factory just west of Detroit where she builds Bronco S.U.V.s. That yielded a pay raise of 25 percent over the next four years, easing the pain of reductions that she and other union workers swallowed more than a decade ago.But as Ms. Simmons, 38, contemplates prospects for the American auto industry in the state that invented it, she worries about a new force: the shift toward electric vehicles. She is dismayed that the transition has been championed by President Biden, whose pro-labor credentials are at the heart of his bid for re-election, and who recently gained the endorsement of her union, the United Automobile Workers.The Biden administration has embraced electric vehicles as a means of generating high-paying jobs while cutting emissions. It has dispensed tax credits to encourage consumers to buy electric cars, while limiting the benefits to models that use American-made parts.But autoworkers fixate on the assumption that electric cars — simpler machines than their gas-powered forebears — will require fewer hands to build. They accuse Mr. Biden of jeopardizing their livelihoods.“I was disappointed,” Ms. Simmons said of the president. “We trust you to make sure that Americans are employed.”Tiffanie Simmons works in Wayne, Mich., at a Ford Motor factory that builds Broncos.Nick Hagen for The New York TimesMs. Simmons’s union has endorsed President Biden, but “I was disappointed” in him, she said.Nick Hagen for The New York TimesWe are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Job Market Starts 2024 With a Bang

    U.S. employers added 353,000 jobs in January, far exceeding forecasts, and revised figures showed last year was even stronger than previously reported.The United States produced an unexpectedly sizable batch of jobs last month, a boon for American workers that shows the labor market retains remarkable strength after three years of expansion.Employers added 353,000 jobs in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department reported on Friday, and the unemployment rate remained at 3.7 percent.The report also put an even shinier gloss on job growth for 2023, including revisions that added more than 100,000 to the figure previously tallied for December. All told, employers added 3.1 million jobs last year, more than the 2.7 million initially reported.After the loss of 14 percent of the nation’s jobs early in the Covid-19 pandemic, the labor market’s endurance despite aggressive interest rate increases has caught economists off guard.“I think everyone is surprised at the strength,” said Sara Rutledge, an independent economics consultant. “It’s almost like a ‘pinch me’ scenario.”Ms. Rutledge helped tabulate the National Association for Business Economics’ latest member survey, which found rising optimism that the country would avoid a recession — matching a turnaround in measures of consumer sentiment as inflation has eased.Unemployment has been under 4 percent for 24 monthsUnemployment rate More

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    The U.S. Seems to Be Dodging a Recession. What Could Go Wrong?

    Economists have become increasingly optimistic about the odds of a soft landing. But as 2024 begins to unfold, risks remain.With inflation falling, unemployment low and the Federal Reserve signaling it could soon begin cutting interest rates, forecasters are becoming increasingly optimistic that the U.S. economy could avoid a recession.Listen to This ArticleOpen this article in the New York Times Audio app on iOS.Wells Fargo last week became the latest big bank to predict that the economy will achieve a soft landing, gently slowing rather than screeching to a halt. The bank’s economists had been forecasting a recession since the middle of 2022.Yet if forecasters were wrong when they predicted a recession last year, they could be wrong again, this time in the opposite direction. The risks that economists highlighted in 2023 haven’t gone away, and recent economic data, though still mostly positive, has suggested some cracks beneath the surface.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber?  More

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    U.S. Job Growth Holds Up as Economy Gradually Cools

    Interest rate increases have taken the edge off labor demand, but unemployment dipped in November, and wages rose more than expected.The U.S. economy continued to pump out jobs in November, suggesting there is still juice left in a labor market that has been slowing almost imperceptibly since last year’s pandemic rebound.Employers added 199,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department reported Friday, while the unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent, from 3.9 percent. The increase in employment includes tens of thousands of autoworkers and actors who returned to their jobs after strikes, and others in related businesses that had been stalled by the walkouts, meaning underlying job growth is slightly weaker.Even so, the report signals that the economy remains far from recession territory despite a year and a half of interest rate increases that have weighed on consumer spending and business investment. Reinforcing the picture of energetic labor demand, wages jumped 0.4 percent over the month, more than expected, and the workweek lengthened slightly.Wage growth held steady in NovemberYear-over-year percentage change in earnings vs. inflation More

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    U.S. Job Openings Dropped in October

    The News:Job openings fell considerably in October, hitting the lowest level since March 2021, the Labor Department announced on Tuesday.There were 8.7 million job openings in October, down significantly from 9.3 million in September, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. That was lower than economists’ expectations of 9.3 million openings.The rate of layoffs was little changed, as was the rate of quitting, which generally reflects workers’ confidence in their ability to find new employment.Job openings declined significantly in October, the Labor Department said.Tony Cenicola/The New York TimesWhy It Matters: The state of the labor market affects interest rate policy.The labor market is closely watched by the Federal Reserve as it mulls its interest rate policy. A cooling labor market tends to fuel predictions that the Fed will not further increase rates, which have risen to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent from nearly zero in March 2022.The labor market has been surprisingly resilient since the Fed started its rate increases in a campaign to tame inflation. But as the job market shows signs of cooling, so has consumer spending. Many companies told investors that in the most recent quarter customers were pulling back and spending less on products and more on services and experiences. The Fed’s preferred inflation measure confirmed that consumer spending slowed in October.At the same time, investors are increasingly hopeful that the Fed is done raising rates. Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, recently suggested in a speech that the central bank would leave rates steady if data continued to point to a cooling economy. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield fell on Tuesday, reaching its lowest point since September, as investors expected interest rates to fall in the future.A reduction in job opportunities discourages the Fed from raising rates or keeping them high too long because such a trend often foreshadows a recession. “With this evidence coming in that the labor market is cooling substantially, I think it’s raising the chances that the Fed is done with the rate hikes,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter.Background: Unemployment and openings have reverted to earlier levels.Though the labor market is slowing, it remains a healthy landscape for workers. The unemployment rate ticked up in October, to nearly 4 percent, which is in line with prepandemic levels.Job openings reached a record of more than 12 million in March 2022 and have trended down since. The last time job openings hovered around nine million — where it is now — was in the spring of 2021.There are still ample opportunities for workers. The rate of hiring remained steady in October despite the decline in openings.One difference is that layoffs are lower than they were before the pandemic. That probably reflects companies’ decisions to reduce staffing by natural attrition rather than cuts.“This is perhaps the biggest sign that we still have a strong economy and labor market,” said Sonu Varghese, a strategist at Carson Group, a financial advisory firm.Though inflation has slowed significantly since the Fed started raising rates in March 2022, it remains above the central bank’s 2 percent target.The Fed’s preferred inflation measure fell to 3 percent in October from a year earlier. But without including food and fuel prices, which are volatile and less sensitive to the Fed’s policy actions, the rate was 3.5 percent.What’s next: The November jobs report comes on Friday.The November jobs report will be released on Friday by the Labor Department. Economists forecast that the unemployment rate will stay around 4 percent, with a gain of about 180,000 jobs.That report will be one of the last insights into the state of the labor market before the Fed’s next policy meeting on Dec. 12 and 13. More

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    JOLTS Report Shows U.S. Job Openings Steady in September

    The NewsJob openings changed little in September, the Labor Department announced on Wednesday.There were 9.6 million job openings in September, slightly up from August’s revised total of 9.5 million, according to seasonally adjusted figures from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The figure was greater than economists’ expectations of 9.3 million openings. The rate of workers quitting their jobs was flat, at 2.3 percent, for the third straight month.The Federal Reserve closely monitors job openings to understand whether the economy is running too hot.Jim Wilson/The New York TimesWhy It Matters: The Fed looks for signs of a soft landing.The Federal Reserve closely monitors job openings to understand whether the economy is running too hot. Since March 2022, the Fed has tried to fight inflation by raising interest rates to their highest level since 2001.The Fed has remained committed to hitting an annual inflation target of 2 percent without causing a significant spike in unemployment — a combined outcome known as a “soft landing.”Fed officials are expected to maintain a target range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent for interest rates when they meet on Wednesday. The overall trend of slowing job openings is a sign that rate increases have cooled the economy, according to experts.“All of this means the Fed probably doesn’t feel the need to raise rates further, but they’re not going to ease anytime soon,” said Sonu Varghese, global macro strategist at Carson Group, said of the report on job openings.Job openings, which reached a record of more than 12 million in March 2022, have trended down, as has the job-quitting rate, while separations have been flat. As openings rose slightly in September, the number of openings per unemployed worker was flat, at 1.5, the same as August.Less churn in the labor market indicates that rate increases are having an effect, said Julia Pollak, the chief economist at the job search website ZipRecruiter. ZipRecruiter’s latest survey of new employees found that the share of hires who received a pay increase, got a signing bonus or were recruited to their new jobs each fell.Background: ‘More wood to chop’ for the Fed.Job openings remain much higher than they were before the pandemic, and the number of unemployed workers per job opening is much lower. Both are signs of a tight labor market.Inflation also remains above the Fed’s 2 percent target. The Fed’s preferred inflation measure has fallen nearly four percentage points since the summer of 2022, to 3.4 percent.“The Fed’s primary focus remains inflation,” said Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo. “They’re reading the economy through the lens of ‘What does this mean for the path of inflation ahead?’”According to Stephen Juneau, an economist at Bank of America, the Fed still has “more wood to chop.” His team expects that the Fed will raise rates one more time, in December, to reach a soft landing.Economic growth in the third quarter accelerated, and another measure of wage growth grew faster than expected over the summer. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond, a key measure of long-term borrowing costs that undergirds nearly everything in the economy, has reached its highest level since 2007 as the outlook for growth has improved.What’s next: The October jobs report on Friday.The report on Wednesday morning kicked off an important few days in economic news. After Fed officials meet to decide whether to raise rates, October’s jobs report will be released on Friday by the Labor Department.The data is expected to show that hiring slowed, with the addition of 180,000 jobs, according to Bloomberg’s survey of economists, down from September’s 336,000. The unemployment rate is expected to tick up to 3.9 percent, after holding steady at 3.8 percent in September. More

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    Ford Says It Won’t Raise Its Contract Offer to U.A.W.

    The company said it had reached the limit of what it could offer to the United Automobile Workers union, which has expanded its strike to Ford’s largest plant.Ford Motor said on Thursday that it could not improve its contract offer to the United Automobile Workers union without hurting its business and its ability to invest in electric vehicles.The automaker also said the union’s decision to expand its strike to Ford’s largest factory, the Kentucky Truck Plant, would probably hurt workers at other factories and lead to layoffs across the auto industry.“We are very clear,” Kumar Galhotra, president of the Ford division that makes combustion engine vehicles, said in a conference call with reporters. “We are at the limit. Any more will stretch our ability to invest in the business.”The U.A.W. is negotiating new labor contracts with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, the parent of Chrysler and Jeep. The union’s members have struck selected plants and parts warehouses owned by the three companies. On Wednesday, its talks with Ford broke down, and the union responded by calling on the 8,700 U.A.W. workers at Kentucky Truck to walk off the job.“If the companies are not going to come to the table and take care of the membership’s needs, then we will react,” the U.A.W. president, Shawn Fain, said in an online video after the strike in Kentucky was announced.Production at the plant, in Louisville, stopped Wednesday evening. The factory makes the Super Duty versions of Ford’s F-Series pickup trucks as well as the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator full-size sport utility vehicles.On its own, the Kentucky Truck plant generates about 16 percent of Ford’s revenue. On a typical day, a new vehicle rolls off its assembly line every 37 seconds.The plant is so large that a prolonged idling will probably cause stoppages and layoffs at up to 13 other Ford plants that make engines, transmission and axles. Factories owned by the 600 suppliers that provide parts for Ford could also have to lay off workers, Mr. Galhotra said.“This goes way beyond just hitting Ford’s profits,” he said.The U.A.W. is seeking a substantial increase in wages as well as a cost-of-living provision, an expanded retirement plan, improved retiree health care benefits and job security as automakers make the transition to producing electric vehicles. It also wants to end a system in which new hires start at a little more than half the top U.A.W. wage of $32 an hour.Ford has offered to increase wages 23 percent over four years, adjust wages in response to inflation and cut the time for new hires to rise to the top wage, to four years from eight.The U.A.W. went into a negotiating session on Wednesday expecting Ford to sweeten its offer, according to the union. Mr. Galhotra said Ford was prepared to discuss adjustments to its existing offer but not to make a completely new proposal.The differences became clear quickly, and Mr. Fain instructed Ford workers at the Kentucky plant to strike, union and company officials said. Mr. Fain and other union negotiators left the meeting minutes after it started.“Unfortunately, we had to escalate our action,” Mr. Fain said in his video. “We came here today to get another offer from Ford, and they gave us the same exact offer as two weeks ago.” More