A Virtuous Cycle

August 7, 2022

by Stephen Stofka

July’s employment survey (BLS, 2022) reported a half-million job gains and marked a milestone – the recovery of all the jobs lost during the pandemic. In addition, earlier employment gains were revised higher by 28,000. The BLS survey indicated that only 7.1% of employees worked remotely, a surprising contrast to the amount of attention that the media gives teleworking. Last week, I discussed the dating of recessions. With this report, it is unlikely that the dating committee at the NBER will dub this a recession. Consumption, income, employment and investment are the pillars of this economy and they are doing well, contributing to the current inflationary trends.

Annual gains in private investment topped 18% in the second quarter, besting the 16% gain in 2012:Q1 a decade ago (series notes at end). Businesses invest in people, driving up employment gains. In the graph below, I multiplied the annual gain in employment by 4 to show the correlation between investment and employment.

Higher employment leads to higher incomes. Just as employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels, real (inflation-adjusted) disposable incomes are now at pre-pandemic levels. Disposable income includes government transfers like social security and pandemic stimulus checks. The last stimulus checks went out in March/April 2021, more than a year ago. It’s a good bet that these are sustainable income numbers produced by economic growth, not the result of special  transfer payments.

Higher incomes lead to higher spending. Real (inflation-adjusted) consumption spending marked an annual gain of 1.57% in June and is now up 4.5% over pre-pandemic levels. Consumers have made an abrupt shift from buying goods to buying services. Real sales at restaurants are now 10% above pre-pandemic levels.

To keep up with high demand for goods and clogged shipping ports during the pandemic, Target and Wal-Mart ordered extra and now have more inventory than they would like. Their loss is the travel and leisure industry’s gain. Marriott Hotels (2022) reported a surge in demand this year. In the U.S. and Canada, their leisure traffic is 15% above pre-pandemic levels and their revenue per room is about the same as in 2019.

Higher incomes usually lead to higher savings. In the decade before the pandemic, households saved 6-7% of disposable income. In 2020 and 2021, the savings rate averaged a whopping 20% and 12%. Most of that higher savings was done by households with higher incomes. Congress could have passed a CARES act that sent stimulus payments only to those with lower incomes, but they chose not to. Those additional savings became investment and that brings us full circle to the higher investment and employment – a virtuous cycle that Adam Smith wrote about more than two hundred years ago.

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Photo by Markolf von Ketelhodt on Unsplash

BLS. (2022, August 5). Employment situation summary – 2022 M07 results. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

Marriott Internatonal. (2022, August 2). Marriott International Reports Outstanding Second Quarter 2022 results and resumes share repurchases. Marriott International Newscenter (US). Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://news.marriott.com/news/2022/08/02/marriott-international-reports-outstanding-second-quarter-2022-results-and-resumes-share-repurchases

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Gross Private Domestic Investment [GPDI], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/GPDI, August 5, 2022.

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Real Personal Consumption Expenditures [PCEC96], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PCEC96, August 4, 2022.

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Real Disposable Personal Income [DSPIC96], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DSPIC96, August 4, 2022.

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income [A072RC1Q156SBEA], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/A072RC1Q156SBEA, August 4, 2022.

U.S. Census Bureau, Advance Retail Sales: Food Services and Drinking Places [RSFSDP], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/RSFSDP, August 5, 2022. Note: I adjusted for inflation using the CPI.

 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, All Employees, Total Nonfarm [PAYEMS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PAYEMS, August 5, 2022.

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