Worker confidence in finding a new job has hit a six-year high, but it might be a 'turning point'

Key Points
  • A New York Fed consumer survey showed worker confidence in finding a new job at its highest level since at least June 2013.
  • The results come amid a raft of conflicting data that could show an economy nearing the end of its expansion cycle.
  • While jobs numbers have been mostly strong, manufacturing data has been uniformly weak.

While other economic signs may be weakening, Americans are still confident about their job prospects.

A recent New York Federal Reserve consumer expectations survey showed that workers' confidence for finding a new job after losing their current position was at 61.5% in May — an increase from 59.3% in April and the highest since the central bank started keeping track in June 2013.

Moreover, the confidence rise was best in those with incomes less than $50,000, a key cohort as policymakers seek to bridge the wealth gap that blew open following the financial crisis. 

Earnings growth expectations also rose, up one-tenth of a point to 2.5% and the mean probability of respondents leaving their jobs voluntarily over the next 12 months — another sign of worker confidence — rose to 21.2% from 20.3%.

The numbers came amid a cascade of conflicting data.

Manufacturing readings lately have been weak, and May's nonfarm payrolls count also was disappointing. Consumer spending, meanwhile, has gotten stronger, but the number of economists expecting a recession over the next year or so has continued to grow.

The Federal Reserve is wrestling with the crosscurrents as it prepares this week to signal where interest rates are heading.

Markets await Fed rate decision as expectation of a future cut grows

"Historically, economists never see turning points. At turning points, you get conflicting data," said Joe LaVorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis. "When the economy might be in a topping out process, it's not unusual for some [data] series to move south and other series to move north."

The policymaking Federal Open Market Committee is expected to keep rates steady at the two-day meeting that concludes Wednesday, but could signal future rate cuts. Markets expect a quarter-point rollback in July followed by another in September and possibly a third move as soon as December.

Low inflation is one reason the Fed may ease policy.

The New York Fed's consumer survey showed three-month inflation expectations at 2.6% and one-year out at 2.5%, both the lowest since late 2017. The bond market also is looking ahead to low inflation and a possible period of negative growth somewhere on the horizon, as shorter-dated government bond yields are now outpacing those at the longer end of the spectrum, a phenomenon known as an inverted yield curve that has been a reliable recession indicator.

"Markets as sending you a late-cycle message not just in the yield curve, but also if you look at what has led the rally in the stock market," LaVorgna said, citing the outperformance of defensive stocks.