The judgment of what constitutes strong or tepid job growth has shifted as the expansion ages. With more baby boomers retiring each year, economists estimate that the monthly addition of roughly 100,000 jobs should be enough to absorb those entering the work force, including newly minted graduates.
“Even though job growth slowed, it’s still well above where it needs to be to keep up with the working-age population growth,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed, an online recruiting site. “It’s inevitable that we would start to see a slowdown in the payroll numbers. Month-after-month job gains in the 200,000 range are not sustainable longer term. The working-age population is growing too slowly to support that.”
Only twice in the last eight months has that 200,000 figure been reached; the average over the last three months has been 121,000. Analysts are split on whether the slower pace is a sign of the labor market’s tightness or its slack. Those who believe the economy is reaching full capacity, or is already there, argue that there are just not that many available workers left.
“Since 2012, this has been a tremendous period of steady, solid job growth — historic in many ways — that has slowly absorbed most if not all of the underemployed and unemployed people last year,” said Alan MacEachin, chief corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.