Trump administration looking to infrastructure for stimulus: Mnuchin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Wednesday that President Donald Trump was interested in using road, bridge and other projects to blunt the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis and the administration was having talks about creating an infrastructure plan.

“The president has been very clear: he is prepared to do whatever we need to do to make sure that American workers and American businesses are protected,” he said. “If we need more programs, more money, we will be going back to Congress.”

Mnuchin said Trump’s longstanding desire to update the country’s infrastructure had led the administration to talks over the last year with Republican and Democratic lawmakers about possible legislation. Now, as interest rates scrape the bottom, the administration considers this a great time to invest in infrastructure.

Congress is working on its fourth legislative package addressing the coronavirus crisis, as it urgently tries to churn out bills that will both bolster the public health response to the deadly pandemic and alleviate the economic suffering hitting almost every part of U.S. society.

Trump and Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi have found common ground in wanting to include capital works projects in this “Phase 4” legislation to provide jobs for millions of newly displaced workers.

“The president very much wants to rebuild the country and with interest rates low that’s something that’s important to him,” Mnuchin said. “We expect there will be more bills and we think it is a great time now to invest in infrastructure.”

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Additional reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Americans voluntarily quitting jobs as labor market tightens

: A help wanted sign is posted on the door of a gas station in Encinitas, California, U.S., September 6, 2013.

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of American workers voluntarily quitting their jobs jumped in December to the highest level in nearly 17 years, in a strong show of confidence in the labor market which further bolsters expectations of faster wage growth this year.

The Labor Department’s monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report published on Tuesday came on the heels of news last week that annual wage growth in January was the strongest in more than 8-1/2 years. The labor market is almost at full employment.

The number of workers willingly leaving their jobs increased by 98,000 to 3.259 million, the highest level since January 2001. That lifted the quits rate to a 2.2 percent from 2.1 percent in November. This rate, which the Federal Reserve looks at as a measure of job market confidence, has rebounded from a low of 1.3 percent in late 2009.

“I had thought that by now, the fear of moving to another company would have faded,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania. “It really hadn’t very much, though maybe it is finally happening.”Rising job turnover boosts economists’ optimism that wage growth will accelerate this year and in turn help to push inflation toward the Fed’s 2 percent target. While economists remain confident that the U.S. central bank will increase interest rates at least three times this year, much would depend on the fortunes of the U.S. stock market.

Stocks on Wall on Monday recorded their biggest drop since August 2011 as concerns over rising U.S. interest rates and government bond yields hit record-high valuations of stocks.

“The data today are likely to keep the Fed on the path of gradual rate hikes this year as long as the stock market stabilizes from its death plunge the last two weeks,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

“Labor market conditions are picture perfect today, but that can change in a hurry if worsening financial conditions and plunging markets take a toll on business confidence.”

The JOLTS report also showed that job openings, a measure of labor demand, decreased 167,000 to a seasonally adjusted 5.8 million. Still, job openings are not too far from a record high of 6.2 million touched in September.

The decline in job openings in December was led by the professional and business services sector, which saw a decrease of 119,000. Job openings in the retail trade sector fell 85,000 while vacancies in construction dropped 52,000.

But job openings in the information sector increased 33,000 and the federal government had an additional 13,000 vacancies in December. The jobs openings rate slipped one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.8 percent in December.

Hiring was little changed at 5.49 million.

“The recent moderation across much of the JOLTS data is not alarming to us given that levels still remain favorable across much of the data and that we have been expecting the pace of job growth to cool relative to the recent strong gains,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

A decade after recession, a jump in U.S. states with wage gains for American workers

Newly hired employees take a break from training to pose for a group photo at the chain’s soon-to-open 54th outlet in Oakland, California ,U.S., January 24, 2018.

By Ann Saphir, Jonathan Spicer and Howard Schneider

OAKLAND, Calif./CANTON, N.Y./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The kind of pay raises for which American workers have waited years are now here for a broadening swath of the country, according to a Reuters analysis of state-by-state data that suggests falling unemployment has finally begun boosting wages.

Average pay rose by more than 3 percent in at least half of U.S. states last year, up sharply from previous years. The data also shows a jump in 2017 in the number of states where the jobless rate zeroed in on record lows, 10 years after the financial crisis knocked the economy into a historic recession.

The state-level data could signal an inflection point muffled by national statistics.

Over the past four years, the U.S. economy added 10 million jobs and the overall unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since 2000. Yet wages have disappointed.

The disconnect has puzzled economists at the Federal Reserve, frustrated politicians concerned about rising inequality, and held regular Americans back, even as businesses have benefited and stock markets have surged, particularly in the first year of U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidency.

Trump says his tax cuts and regulation rollbacks are lifting business sentiment, and in an upbeat address to Congress on Tuesday, he said Americans “are finally seeing rising wages” after “years and years” of stagnation.

Indeed, average hourly earnings were up 2.9 percent in January year-on-year, the biggest rise in more than 8-1/2 years but still less than the 3.5 percent to 4 percent economists say would be a sign of a healthy economy.

The Reuters analysis and interviews with businesses across the country do show wage increases in industries ranging from manufacturing to technology and retail. Executives are mixed, however, on how much to credit Trump after several years of job growth that has chopped nearly six percentage points from the unemployment rate since its peak of 10 percent at the height of the 2007-2009 recession.

“Everyone in the building knows that they can leave and make more money,” said Michael Frazer, president of Frazer Computing, which provides software to U.S. used-car dealers from its offices in northern New York state. In response he raised wages by 6.1 percent at the end of 2017, up from 3.7 percent the previous year.

In Portland, Oregon, software provider Zapproved now hires coding school graduates and spends up to three months training them because the experienced software developers it used to hire have become too expensive. And still, CEO Monica Enand says she gives her developers twice-yearly raises “to make sure we are in the market for pay.”

JOBLESS RATES AT RECORD LOWS

The Reuters analysis of the most recent data available found that in half of the 50 states, average hourly pay rose by more than 3 percent last year. That’s up from 17 states in 2016, 12 in 2015, and 3 in 2014. Average weekly pay rose in 30 states, also up sharply from prior years, the analysis showed.

Unemployment rates are near or at record lows in 17 states, including New York, up from just five in 2016, the Reuters analysis shows.

“Wage growth tends to accelerate when the unemployment rate gets really strong,” said Bart Hobijn, an economics professor at Arizona State University.

California, Arkansas, and Oregon were among those both notching 3-percent-plus wage gains and plumbing record-low unemployment rates. This broadening of benefits to U.S. workers comes as robust global growth pushes up wages from Germany to Japan.

New York Fed President William Dudley said last month that firmer wage gains in states with lower unemployment rates gave him confidence that U.S. inflation, long stubbornly low, would soon rise.

In California, home of Noah’s New York Bagels, more than half of its 53 stores now pay their new hires more than the legal minimum wage, twice as many as in mid-2017.

“It’s very challenging to find enough people” in low-unemployment areas like the San Francisco Bay Area, said Noah’s president Tyler Ricks, who expects to hike pay further this year even as he opens five new stores.

To be sure, some states like Idaho with very low unemployment continue to have slow wage growth, while some like Delaware with very strong wage growth still have jobless rates well above their record lows.

And the share of gross domestic product that feeds back to labor as compensation has only edged slightly higher this decade, after generally declining since the 1970s, suggesting workers have a long way to make up ground.

Yet the state-level data hints at a first step.

Galley Support, a Sherwood, Arkansas-based manufacturer of latches for airplane kitchens and toilets, gave unskilled workers as much as a 20 percent pay hike last year. CEO Gina Radke said it will sap profit but with the Trump administration’s business-friendly policies set to benefit aircraft companies like Boeing, she added, “We feel confident that we will see an increase in sales to cover the increase in wages.”

Work-site managers at Gray, a company that oversees the building of factories and other projects from its headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky, also got a 20 percent raise since 2016. Yet a paycheck of up to $200,000 a year, plus bonuses, often isn’t enough to fill all the jobs on offer.

“There is just so much work around for people that it’s just hard to lure them away,” said Susan Brewer, Gray’s vice president of human resources.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir in Oakland, Calif., Jonathan Spicer in Canton, New York and Howard Schneider in Washington; Editing by Andrea Ricci)