Picking up the pace?

Picking up the pace?

The latest national jobs report contained some good news.

There is growing optimism in some quarters, buttressed by a robust increase in job gains, that the anemic economy is starting to pick up steam.

The U.S. Labor Department reported last week that the economy grew by 2.6 percent in the second quarter (April to June) of 2017 compared with just 1.2 percent during the first quarter (January-March). That's not far from the much desired growth rate of 3 to 4 percent rate that indicates a tight jobs market, increased wages and general prosperity.

It has, however, been a long run of slow growth that has yet to end following the Great Recession of 2008-09. That's why most economists are keeping their fingers crossed.

But last week's Labor Department report showed that the unemployment rate fell again, from 4.4 percent to 4.3 percent, a 16-year low. At the same time, the Labor Force Participation Rate also increased slightly from 62.8 percent to 62.9 percent.

This country's employment issues won't be close to being solved until the participation rate is dramatically higher. Many of those not participating are those who no longer are counted as unemployed because they have so discouraged they have given up looking for work.

For example, the Labor Force Participation Rate for those between age of 25-54 — prime working years — jumped to 78.7 percent, a post-recession high.

The economy continues to generate jobs — 209,000 in July and more than 1 million since President Donald Trump took office.

But wage growth remains week, one indicator that many of the news jobs being created pay relatively low wages. At the same time, there apparently is a shortage of skilled workers for higher-paying jobs.

The National Federation of Independent Business reported some disturbing news on that front.

It said that while job openings were at a 16-year high in July "small businesses cited a lack of skills as the main reason for the vacancies. Others also blamed 'unreasonable' wage expectations, attitude, appearance as well as drug addiction for disqualification of job seekers."

Skills issues can be addressed, although not easily. But the NFIB survey raises questions of whether individuals in some segments of our society even know how to look for a job and understand the kinds of qualities employers require of their employees.

Chalk that up to our increasingly coarse and vulgar society that fosters a sense of entitlement among too many people while neglecting to instill in them a proper work ethic.

Nonetheless, there is a huge desire among the unemployed to find jobs that pay decent wages and health insurance benefits.

One news outlet reported that thousands of Americans lined up in searing heat recently to apply for positions at Amazon's Jobs Day. The company has announced plans to hire 50,000 for jobs that pay from $12 to $15 an hour and provide health insurance benefits.

Some might view that kind of employment as unworthy of their time and energy. But there is dignity in all work. Further, it's easier to find a job when one already has a job. Jobs like those at Amazon or other similar employers can be the beginning of a successful work life in which individuals can acquire new skills, learn good work habits, embrace educational opportunities and move up the ladder.

There is job growth across a variety of economic sectors. The hospitality industry has added 313,000 jobs this year.

Employment in food services and "drinking places" added 53,000 jobs in July, professional and business services 49,000 jobs, and health care 39,000 jobs. Manufacturers, which frequently pay generous wages and benefits, grew by just 16,000 jobs.

Economists have been searching for good news in the Labor Department's jobs reports every month for the past few years and, mostly, have been disappointed. Slow growth is better than no growth, but the U.S. needs to have a strong economy to assure general prosperity from the top to the bottom of the economy.

It's certainly premature to say this country is on the verge of the growth it's seeking. But there is more room for optimism now than in the past.

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