Indeed, January's numbers highlighted a long-standing trend: Despite a bump in average hourly wages, many of the jobs are still weighted toward the lower end of the pay scale, and that comes nearly seven years into a recovery. Bars and restaurants, for instance, have added 384,000 of 2.6 million jobs created over the past year.
Still, President Barack Obama was there Friday praising the numbers, even though the total of 151,000 new positions was well below the 190,000 that wall Street economists had anticipated.
"The United States of America right now has the strongest, most durable economy in the world," he said at a news conference. "I know that's still inconvenient for Republican stump speeches as their doom and gloom tour plays in New Hampshire. I guess you cannot please everybody."
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The president may have bragged about the unemployment rate's decline below 5 percent, but he knows the number doesn't tell the full story. The decline in the jobless rate has accelerated due to a generational low in labor force participation. Though the one-tenth point drop in January came with a slight rise in the LFP rate, a more encompassing measure that includes those who have left the workforce as well as the underemployed remained unchanged at 9.9 percent.
Even Obama, for all his partisan flame throwing, conceded "that we have more work to do," though he mainly focused on "softness in the global economy" that was making it rough on U.S.-based multinational companies.
Investors are familiar with the work that has to be done.
The fourth-quarter earnings cycle is more than 60 percent complete, and the S&P 500 is tracking for an aggregate annualized profit decline of 5.1 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ. That comes as dropping productivity is pushing unit labor costs higher, which in turn will pressure profit margins, the expansion of which has fueled the nearly seven-year bull market run on Wall Street.
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Companies facing earnings pressure don't hire workers, and they don't invest in capital expenditures, which declined 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter.
"The problem with the optimist narrative is that so much of total private sector gains are in low-wage industries — hardly the broadening of employment the Fed is looking for," Steve Blitz, chief economist at ITG Investment Research, said in a note to clients. "Most industry sectors still employ fewer people than they did when the recession began."
Consumers, meanwhile, are enjoying their savings at the gas pump but not so much that they're running out and spending freely or running up credit; the personal savings rate is at 5.5 percent, while household debt increased just 1.5 percent in the most recent reporting period.
Faced with conflicting signs about the future of the jobs market, and the dilemma of whether the 2.5 percent average earnings gain would push the Fed to hike rates again sooner than expected, traders on Friday headed for safety. Major stock averages declined 1 percent or more while government bond yields, which were supposed to rise along with the Fed's target rate, again fell to the point where the benchmark 10-year yield hovered near its lowest level in about a year.
Not exactly signs of a bustling economy that can be declaring a victory of any sort yet.