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    When the economy satisfies like comfort food, could be time to exit your comfort zone
    • July 9, 2024

    The latest numbers on unemployment remind me of our family’s normal dinner routine.

    That’s because we don’t have a normal dinner routine. Our daughter does four sports, one of them year-round. There is dance, homework and — sacred of sacreds — Family Movie Night. Sure, some nights end in a delicious pot roast served the minute the soccer cleats come off. We’d like to think that’s normal. But what about the other nights (OK, many other nights) that end with peanut butter and banana sandwiches eaten in the car?

    The employment numbers feel like that pot roast dinner —  an economic comfort food moment  in a time where the political news is going from weird to weirder.

    We added 206,000 jobs in June, which is about right for an economy growing at a normal pace. The unemployment rate rose to 4.1%, which is close to what the Congressional Budget Office calls the “natural” rate of unemployment.

    Another important number — one that deserves more attention — is the “JOLT rate”,  which is a cool name for the ratio of unemployed to job openings. The latest number from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there are about 125 job openings for every 100 people looking for a job. At the height of the pandemic there were 250 people unemployed for every 100 openings. That was not, to state the obvious, normal. People need jobs. For most of 2022, there were about 50 unemployed to fill 100 openings. That wasn’t normal either, employers need workers. The current JOLT rate is very close to what we see during times when the economy is ”normal.”

    I’ve also been curious lately about whether workers and employers have come to some understanding on the hot-button issue of working from home. It’s hard to tell since everybody has a story, but the a sequence of monthly surveys  taken by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that for the past year or more about 15% of total hours worked were worked remotely. We all said that after the Pandemic there would be a new normal. Maybe this is it.

    Ok, so if the job market is more or less normal, what should we do?

    Since I’m a Ph.D. economist — which means I’m full of myself — the temptation is to offer sage advice on macroeconomic policy. The truth, of course, is that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell doesn’t care what I think about the timing of interest rate cuts. You shouldn’t either. But you should think more about what this normal employment news means for your own job.

    First, it means that if you don’t have a job, go get a job. And, yes, I’m looking at you recent graduates. I know a lot of you heard a commencement speech delivered by some blowhard who told you to follow your heart, or your muse, or your passion. Whatever. That’s terrible advice. Sure, one or two of you may become successful Tik-Tok influencers. And some of you may have life-changing experiences on a gap year spent traveling around Europe with a backpack and Mom’s credit card. But for most of you that’s a waste of a valuable year.

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    An economy doing what it’s doing right now is the perfect time to take that all important first step on the career ladder.

    If you’re kind of good at math and like computers, you can find a bank or an insurance company that will train you be an underwriter. If you’re a people person, you can find a company making stuff people want to buy that will set you up in their sales trainee program where you can learn everything you can about what the customers really want and then let you go sell, sell, sell.

    And if you already have a job, make sure you’re doing it well. Normal is not forever, especially in the world of work. When things get tight, you want to be the one the boss can’t do without, not the one with a name the boss can’t quite remember.

    To go back to my observation about “normal” dinnertime routines, good parents stay humble. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. We enjoy the pot roast and the random family conversation, but we make sure there’s an extra jar of peanut butter in the pantry.

    Michael L. Davis is an economics professor at the Cox School of Business, SMU Dallas.

    ​ Orange County Register 

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