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‘One month doesn’t make a trend’ but jobs report ‘still does fall short’: St. Louis Fed executive

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Vice President and Director of the Institute for Economic Equity at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Bill Rodgers weighs in on the November jobs report alongside the Yahoo Finance Live show hosts.

Video transcript

BRIAN CHEUNG: We're gonna shift gears right now and get back to the topic of that jobs report that we got about an hour and a half ago-- again, 210,000 total nonfarm payrolls gained in November. Unemployment rate down to 4.2%. So let's get more commentary on this from Bill Rodgers, vice president and director of the Institute for Economic Equity at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Bill, it's great to have you on the program. You've been focusing a lot on certain sectors of the labor economy-- those with disabilities, those that are retired-- and we want to get into that a little bit later. But just kind of wondering if you have broad thoughts on that jobs report covering the month of November we got this morning.

BILL RODGERS: Yeah, good morning, Brian. And thanks for having me on. Yeah, I think this morning's report has two messages in it.

One is particularly on the payroll side of things. One month doesn't make a trend. And that-- you know, the job-- the payroll number did come in almost half of what we've been-- what people expected. But if you incorporate some two months of backward months of revisions, that gets you closer to 300,000 over the last few months but still does fall short.

But on the other hand, when you shift over to the household side I think there were some encouraging numbers there. Unemployment ticked down, but it ticked down because people were getting jobs and coming into the labor force. So there might be, you know, kind of a catch-up that we've had these strong months-- stronger months over the last few months. And now you're starting to see it show up in the household survey.

The wage numbers didn't suggest kind of a continued acceleration in at least wage inflation. You know, the concern there is for the institute where I'm focusing on economic equity in low- and moderate-income communities that the inflation, which now people think has shifted from a transitory to more permanent or a longer-term phenomena-- since there was no acceleration, that's great-- but it's gonna make challenges for families this holiday season in terms of their dollar going further with regards to gifts.

JULIE HYMAN: Hey, Bill, it's Julie. It's really good to see you. So as we look at that wage--

BILL RODGERS: Likewise, Julie, thank you.

JULIE HYMAN: Thanks. As we look at that wage growth of 4.8% year over year, what kind of clarity do we have as to how that is breaking down, both by various ethnic groups that you said you were watching and also by income strata?

BILL RODGERS: Yes, the recovery has been one where we've seen broad-based improvements. And we are focused on the employment-population ratio here at the institute, my colleague Lowell Ricketts and I. And the variation you saw there is that teenagers have recovered fairly quickly. Latinos have recovered very quickly.

And then part of that is because young people, especially, have been willing to go into some retail occupations-- retail occupations and also leisure and hospitality occupations, either being younger and not fearing as well-- fearing as much about getting the virus, while we've seen a large retraction of women-- [INAUDIBLE] women who are 65 to 74 years of age that have left the labor force. And many of them were in these two higher-risk occupations.

But the good news is that recover-- are seeing recovery in all groups. This month's was, I think, the third consecutive month that the employment-population ratio for people with disabilities actually improved, continued to improve. It still is at levels that are, at least for me and my staff, are too low. And we want to see many of these people brought more into the labor market. So overall, the household survey, I think, continued to show some positive stories in it.

BRIAN SOZZI: Bill, would interest rate hikes bring down the inflation we are seeing? Because the argument is that the inflation we are seeing in many areas of the economy are really the result of the pandemic.

BILL RODGERS: Yeah. Now you're moving into territory that I need to defer to Chairman Powell and to my bank president, Jim Bullard, that, you know, that what I shared earlier, you know, my concern around the issues of inflation persisting really focuses on individuals in low- and moderate-income communities. That is-- in the previous segment, a larger share of their total income is now having to-- being eaten away because of higher prices.

And, you know, there's a trade-off. You have a strong economy, good jobs, and we want to see that continue. But we have to-- it's a delicate balancing act now of continuing to have promoting strong growth, creating opportunity for people with disabilities, for teenagers, addressing equity issues between Blacks and whites and Latinos and whites, young and old. But we also have to take into account the concerns that, you know, the cost of living has risen in many communities.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Bill, I want to focus on the labor market specifically for workers with a disability, because you mentioned a lot of other groups, but obviously, they are also in focus as well given the labor market recovery. There are a lot of nuances here about what might make it even more difficult for those with a disability to come back into jobs that might require mask wearing or other types of unique things that might actually make it more difficult for them to get back into the workforce. What are you looking at, or what types of trends are you seeing on that front that tells you there could be opportunities but also perhaps some obstacles to getting them back to work?

BILL RODGERS: Yeah, the blog to which you're referring that my colleague Lowell Ricketts and I did, we set out thinking that because there's greater amounts of remote work, the quality of technology in terms of being able to work at home, that that would have provided a positive impetus for employers to hire and to expand their pool of valuable and viable workers to people with disabilities.

But as we got into that research and conversations with folks within the bank, and also some people in the disability community, we found that one of the still-major barriers, even in this world of technology that I just described, is having access to websites, being able to navigate through websites. So employers can do some simple things, we think, that were shared with us to make it easier, to reduce that barrier just on that front end.

And then, after-- once you're in the workplace, then it's making sure that-- you know, that-- and this goes to all employees, especially coming after the pandemic, but that you're sensitive to the needs that people have, so expanding the notion of your understanding of what a disability is. It's not just a physical disability. There's issues of neurodiversity. There's issues of mental health, right, that are disabilities.

And so a large part of this is, first, having greater sensitivity towards individuals. And making accommodations is not lowering your standards. Let me be clear here that, right, making accommodations is not lowering one's standards or one's criteria. These folks are just as productive, if not more productive, than folks who maybe don't have a disability.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Absolutely critical to remember that. Again, Bill Rodgers, vice president and director of the Institute for Economic Equity at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, thanks so much for stopping by.

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