October 21, 2023 Reading Time: 4 minutes

While the latest “strong” US jobs report and “cooling” CPI inflation have been touted as promising, a closer look reveals more complexity, and many American families continue to bear the brunt of DC’s failures over the last three-plus years. 

The payroll survey’s net gain of 336,000 non-farm jobs is a popular headline, as the figure nearly doubled expectations. But the household survey, a second crucial report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows that only 84,000 jobs were added in September. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate stayed at 3.8 percent, which would be much higher if more people were looking for work. 

Let’s consider the labor force participation rate of 62.8 percent to double-check the headlines. 

If this rate were 63.3 percent, as it was in February 2020, there would be 1.4 million more people in the labor force. If they are all unemployed, today’s unemployment rate would be nearly 5 percent, which is substantially higher than the touted 3.8 percent rate. 

There have also been substantial revisions to the non-farm jobs report in recent months because of volatile data used for seasonal adjustments since the shutdowns, which makes much of it “garbage in, garbage out.” There were, for example, an additional 119,000 jobs added over just July and August than what was initially reported, giving us reason for pause with all of these reports. 

In short, this volatility in the job market data makes it challenging to discern actual trends, especially when Americans continue to be concerned about the economy.

On top of a fickle job market, the latest consumer price index (CPI) sits at 3.7 percent over the past year, while the core inflation, which excludes food and energy, is 4.1 percent. This core inflation rate is double the Federal Reserve’s average inflation rate target and doesn’t show any signs of reverting to 2 percent any time soon. 

This problem was created by the Fed’s bloated balance sheet, which results from its willingness to help finance the federal budget deficits caused by excessive government spending. Until Congress reins in government spending and money printing, inflation will strain household budgets.

Also, real (inflation-adjusted) average weekly earnings dropped by 0.2 percent over the past year, and the average family’s real income has suffered a significant blow, with a decline of more than $7,000 since the start of 2021. 

These financial setbacks are not coincidental. They are the direct result of the progressive policies of the Biden Administration, the Federal Reserve’s bloated balance sheet, and Congress’s habit of excessive spending.

If we want to understand the true state of our economy, we should pay more attention to the Fed’s balance sheet, which remains a crucial indicator of inflationary pressures. This is why I was never on team “transitory inflation.” Even a relatively superficial understanding of the work of Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and John Taylor has indicated from the start that we would face persistent inflation. 

Sure, supply-side factors contributed to higher prices in some markets, as did supply chain bottlenecks. But those are short-term fluctuations that don’t tell the entire story of reduced purchasing power for everyone over a longer period, which is a story of failed public policy on top of the failed shutdowns during the pandemic. 

The explanation is pretty straightforward. There was a sudden halt in the economy due to pandemic shutdowns that distorted many exchanges throughout the marketplace. The federal government then sent out redistributed money to individuals and employers so they wouldn’t have to fret too much during a stressful time. This propped up many Americans, creating any number of zombie firms, zombie workers, and a debt-fueled zombie economy

But this alone wouldn’t explain the inflation, as increased government spending doesn’t stimulate anything other than more government and some specific markets. 

Next, the Fed more than doubled its balance sheet, increasing its assets from $4 trillion to $9 trillion. This doesn’t lead to long-term economic growth, but it does contribute to many market distortions and inflation across the economy. Much of this money stays in the hands of the banks, mortgage companies, and others at the upper part of the income spectrum. Only then does some of it spread further, in a process known as the Cantillon effect

The problem is not only a propped-up economy with multiple asset bubbles, but reduced purchasing power that punishes lower-income families the most. Few, if any, of the positives from more money in circulation goes to these families. Instead, they have seen whatever savings they had dwindle. 

To achieve a more stable and prosperous economic future, we must strike a balance between sound fiscal and monetary policies and curb excessive government spending and money printing. This will only begin to happen when we have rules that control discretionary policies by the administration, Congress, and the Fed. 

While headline jobs and inflation data might suggest a strong economic recovery, digging just a little deeper into the data shows a weak economy with major challenges. It’s time for policymakers to take a hard look at the factors contributing to these economic woes and adopt prudent policies that address the root causes of stagflation.

Vance Ginn

Vance Ginn, Ph.D., is founder and president of Ginn Economic Consulting, LLC and an Associate Research Fellow with AIER. He is chief economist at Pelican Institute for Public Policy and senior fellow at Americans for Tax Reform. He previously served as the associate director for economic policy of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, 2019-20.

Follow him: @VanceGinn.

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