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Jared Bernstein

Jared Bernstein

Jared Bernstein joined the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in May 2011 as a Senior Fellow. From 2009 to 2011, Bernstein was the Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, Executive Director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, and a member of President Obama’s economic team. Prior to joining the Obama administration, Bernstein was a senior economist and the director of the Living Standards Program at the Economic Policy Institute, and between 1995 and 1996, he held the post of Deputy Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Articles by Jared Bernstein

September 2020 jobs report: Slowing jobs gains and a huge spike in long-term unemployment

25 days ago

Payrolls grew by 661,000 last month, well below expectations, and the jobless rate ticked down to 7.9 percent, driven not by job gains, but by people leaving the labor force. Long-term unemployment spiked sharply–in fact, its largest one-month spike on record–and shifts continue from temporary to permanent job losses. In other words, though the labor market continues to improve, it is doing so at a slower pace, and the risk of increasing numbers of job seekers stuck in long-term joblessness is rising.
Payrolls continue to climb back as commerce gradually recovers, but the pace of gains has slowed, as shown in the figure below. Private sector gains last month were stronger, at 877,000, as local education jobs fell sharply, by 231,000. At least part of that loss is due to the impact of Covid

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Unemployment down but so is pace of job gains

September 4, 2020

Payrolls were up 1.4 million in August and the unemployment rate fell sharply from 10.2 to 8.4 percent according to this morning’s labor market update from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Payrolls remain 11.5 million below their pre-pandemic peak in February and the jobless rate is still more than twice its February rate of 3.5 percent.
In years that ends in a zero, the federal government temporarily hires many workers to field the decennial Census. It is thus important to look at private sector payrolls to get a more accurate read on underlying labor demand. Private payrolls rose 1 million in August, as temporary Census hires rose by about 240,000.
Turning back to the bigger picture, the figure below shows average monthly job gains or losses in recent months. The massive job losses that

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July jobs: Labor market keeps ticking, but virus surge is slowing pace of gains

August 7, 2020

The labor market kept ticking in July, but the re-surging pandemic led to slower hiring across most industries. Payrolls rose 1.8 million last month, compared to average monthly gains of 3.8 million in May and June, and payrolls remain 12.9 million jobs down from their February peak (see figure). The jobless rate ticked down to 10.2 percent, but remains highly elevated–that’s still higher than the peak of the last recession–and the share of the prime-age (25-54) population working remains almost 7 percentage points below Feb’s level.

Because of an unusual interaction between pandemic-induced layoffs in local schools and the BLS seasonal adjustments (explained below), the overall job gain is biased up in July. Looking at private sector employment avoids this bias, and payrolls there rose

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A strong jobs report but big holes remain and we’re not outta the viral woods.

July 2, 2020

Payrolls popped up by 4.8 million in June, as commerce continued to gradually reopen across the country. Most industries (75 percent) added jobs, and millions of furloughed workers were called back, taking the unemployment down to 11.1 percent from 13.3 percent in May.
The strong report begs the question: are we out of the virus-infected woods? Has the pandemic-induced recession ended as we enter a strong bounce-back to a solid expansion?
The answer is as best uncertain and, based on recent state-level spikes in the virus, likely “no.” That is, absent a second wave of the virus, the economy has probably bottomed out, and yes, more labor market reports like June’s would restore a job market that would start to reliably repair the deeply damaged fortunes of working families.
But the hole in

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Hey, Senators! The case for extending Unemployment Insurance benefits is air tight.

June 26, 2020

There’s new information out this morning that should be a critical input into ongoing negotiations in the U.S. Senate. Senators are debating whether the economy needs another relief package, and, if so, what should be in it, and this morning’s income report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis is virtually yelling what the answer should be.
The report shows that aggregate income—all the wages and profits and interest payments, etc. that go to U.S. households—fell by a large, but expected, 4 percent in May. More importantly, spending was up a robust 8 percent; in an economy that’s 70 percent consumer spending, that’s an important boost.
But how do you get falling income and higher spending? Is it higher earnings coming out of May’s jobs report? Is it people spending out of their savings?

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Figures behind our “targeting the Black rate” essay

June 14, 2020

Janelle Jones and I have a new piece coming out wherein we explain why and how the Federal Reserve should target the Black unemployment rate in setting monetary policy.
The first figure to which we refer is the share of quarters since 1972 (when the Black jobless rate data start) that the unemployment rate for different racial groups has been below CBOs estimate of the “natural rate.” Whites enjoyed full employment labor markets almost 60% of that time. The Black rate, conversely, has never fallen below the estimated full employment rate (which I’ve, for the record, long argued is biased up, meaning these figures are optimistic).
Source: BLS, CBO
The next figure relates to our discussion of who benefits most from tight labor markets. It shows that pre-crisis, the pace of nominal Black

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Surprise! One report does not a new trend make but reopening may be occurring sooner than expected.

June 5, 2020

Before even getting to the facts of the case on today’s very surprising jobs report, let me share a few insights.
–One jobs report does not a new trend make.
–Keynes was right.
–Economists are terrible at catching turning points.
–Don’t ignore levels for trends.
In one of the more surprising jobs reports I’ve seen, payrolls rose–as in, went up!–last month by 2.5 million and the unemployment rate fell from just below 15 percent to 13.3 percent (though, as I’ll show, racial disparities may be resurfacing). These monthly reports are always noisy, so we don’t want to completely rethink our priors, but expectations were for unemployment to shoot up to about 20 percent and jobs to tank by another 5-10 million.
So, what happened?!
Well, first of all, let’s start with some context. The payroll

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The US job market catches the virus and crashes.

May 8, 2020

Due to the shutting down of the American economy to control the spread of the coronavirus, the bottom fell out of the job market last month. I’ve been writing up monthly jobs reports for decades, and I’ve never seen anything remotely close to this. Employment gains that were made over almost a decade vaporized in two months.
Payrolls collapsed by 20.5 million in April, by far the worst month on record for a data series that begins in 1939. Combining March’s losses of 870,000, revised from -701K, payrolls are down by 21.4 million over the two months. This takes the level in April—131.1 million total, nonfarm jobs—down to the lowest level since February of 2011, meaning in two months, the job market shed almost a decade worth of employment gains (see figure).

In the last recession, the

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At some point, a lot of economically vulnerable people will need to get back to work.

April 30, 2020

Yesterday, we learn the economy contracted in the last quarter at the fastest rate since 2008, when we were in what used to be called the Great Recession. As this decline captured only a tiny share of the time we’ve been in shutdown, it’s the tip of the iceberg that’s sitting atop an economy still in deep freeze. This morning, we learned that another 3.8 million people filed claims for Unemployment Insurance. That’s 30 million claims, which are a fair proxy for layoffs, in six weeks. In a month-and-a-half, we’ve experienced more than three times the layoffs we had in the whole of the recession formerly known as “great.”
The unemployment rate implied by these numbers is 18 percent, much higher than any previous peak.
Such numbers complement the info from a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll

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The tip of the wave: Jobs report shows large losses, but predates the worst of it

April 3, 2020

Payrolls fell by 701,000 in March, their first monthly decline in almost 10 years, and the jobless rate ticked up to 4.4 percent (from 3.5) as the coronavirus and efforts to contain it pounded the U.S. labor market last month. Because of the timing in the surveys in this report, it only picks up the front end of tsunami of layoffs that occurred in the second half of March, when initial claims for Unemployment Insurance rose by almost 10 million, an increase most economists would have considered inconceivable before this crisis. But the report clearly identifies the tip of the wave.
The surveys were fielded in the middle of March, and thus better reflect conditions in the first half of the month, when containment measures were just taking hold. Commerce, travel, and broad consumer activity

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A wounded Trump is an especially dangerous Trump: Thoughts on his proposed economic pivot.

March 24, 2020

When I first heard that Trump and some other conservatives were making the case for punting on containment of the virus in the interest of reflating the economy, I ignored it because it made no sense to me. It still doesn’t, but from what I’m seeing, the idea seems potentially serious enough to warrant a response.
There are at least three reasons this pivot idea is nonsensical.
First, Trump may admire and aspire to emulate authoritarian leaders, but he has no such powers. He did not close my workplace and he cannot reopen it. To be sure, I’m not discounting his bully pulpit and he surely has the capacity to undermine containment efforts with deadly consequences by telling people to get back to work and go out to restaurants, etc. But especially if many more people get sick—the predictable

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Yes, this is an emergency. No, that doesn’t justify a $500 billion Trump/Mnuchin slush fund.

March 22, 2020

By Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker
While the indicators are lagging, the U.S. economy is in a recession that will very likely be extremely deep. It’s likely that real GDP falls at double-digit pace in the quarter that begins next month and the unemployment rate more than doubles. If that sounds implausible, history shows that in sharp downturns, the unemployment rate takes the elevator up and the stairs down.
To their credit, after a slow start Congress appears to have grasped this urgency and is working around the clock on what may turn out to be the largest stimulus package in our history, with a price tag of $1-2 trillion, or 5-10 percent of GDP (the Recovery Act was $800 billion over two years, roughly 2 percent of GDP). Given that fighting the virus essentially calls for putting the

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Jobs report: Calm before storm as the virus hasn’t hit the job market…yet

March 6, 2020

In yet another upside surprise to the U.S. labor market, payrolls grew strongly last month, up 273,000, well above expectations. Upward revisions to earlier months show that contrary to what many have expected, the monthly pace of job gains has accelerated in recent months. The unemployment rate held steady at 3.5 percent, but wage growth, which has been remarkably unresponsive to strong labor demand, remains a soft spot, stuck at 3 percent, year-over-year, just slightly ahead of consumer inflation which is running at around 2.5 percent.
Calm before the storm
As our smoother shows, averaging monthly payroll gains over various time spans, over the past 3 months, payrolls are up 243,000 per month. Over the past year, they’re up less than that: 201,000. Given that most labor market analysts

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Rockefeller Foundation launches an equity/opportunity investment targeting low-income people/places.

February 25, 2020

It’s takes a village–a robust suite of policies and institutional supports–to reconnect a lot of people and places who’ve long been left behind to overall economic growth.
There are roles for government at all levels, with the federal gov’t poised at the top, both in terms of setting policy precedents and financing sub-national initiatives (remember, states can’t run deficits). There are roles for market-oriented, or pre-tax and transfer policies, like persistently tight labor markets and minding the impact of imbalances in credit markets and trade accounts. There are roles for tax and transfer programs, and not just counter-cyclical roles, but investment roles as well. And there are roles for philanthropic foundations, roles that are especially important in ensuring that existing programs

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Another solid jobs report, with lots of evidence that there’s still room-to-run in this labor market.

February 7, 2020

Employers added 225,00 jobs last month as the unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 3.6 percent, largely due to more people entering the job market, yet another sign that there’s still room-to-run in this long labor-market expansion. Wage growth, a perennial soft spot in recent jobs reports, ticked up slightly to a yearly rate of 3.1 percent, around where it has been for much of the past year. That’s ahead of inflation, last seen running at 2.3 percent, but the fact that the wages have not accelerated suggests some degree of slack remains in the job market (other wage and compensation series show roughly similar stability).
Our monthly smoother pulls out trends in job growth by averaging monthly gains over 3, 6, and 12 months. The pattern it shows is interesting and revealing. Over the

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Dr. King knew that full employment raises the price of prejudice

January 20, 2020

There are so many reasons to celebrate the life, work, and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate today. The dimension I like to elevate is Dr. King’s profound understanding of the importance of full employment to the opportunities of black Americans. Remember, the full name of the March on Washington was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (my bold). A sign some of the marchers held that day told of a simple but powerful equation: “Civil Rights Plus Full Employment Equals Freedom.”
Dr. King’s insight was born of the recognition that racial discrimination by employers is costless in slack labor markets. With abundant excess labor, racist employers could handily indulge their prejudices. But when the job market tightens up and stays tight, that strategy

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2019: A robust year for job growth; less so for wage growth

January 10, 2020

Payrolls rose 145,000 last month, capping off a strong year for job gains with payrolls up 2.1 million over the year, an average of 176,000 per month. These are solid numbers, especially at this stage in a uniquely long expansion, but as we show below, their magnitude is well within historical context. In fact, in percentage terms, employment growth in 2019 posted the slowest growth rate (1.4%) since 2010. This, however, is to be expected, as such growth rates typically decelerate as recoveries grow older and the labor market closes in on full capacity (see data note at the end of this post).
The unemployment rate ended the year at 3.5%, a fifty-year low. Wage growth, however, disappointed last month, and has clearly decelerated in recent months, even at low unemployment. This important

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Back-up evidence for WaPo piece on most important econ lessons of the decade

December 23, 2019

Here are the companion figures to my WaPo piece today on econ lessons of the decade.
1) The unemployment rate can fall a lot lower than most economists thought without triggering inflationary pressures.

2) Budget deficits cannot be assumed to place upward pressure on interest rates.

3) Weak worker bargaining power has long been a factor driving inequality. In the last decade, the increasing clout of certain employers has joined the mix.
Source: NY Times
4) Progressive health care reform, wherein the government plays a larger role in coverage and cost control, works.
Source: Paul Van de Water, CBPP
5) [Lesson re-learned] Trickle-down tax cuts don’t work.
Source: Goldman Sachs
6) Antipoverty programs don’t just reduce poverty today; they improve the outcomes of their beneficiaries many

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CBPPs best graphs of 2019!

December 19, 2019

For a certain breed of wonk and nerd, it’s not the holiday season until some of CBPP’s best graphs of the year are collected and briefly annotated. This year, Kathleen Bryant and I took a stab at picking some of the figures we thought were most important to document the economic and policy landscape facing economically vulnerable people.

One of the most important and positive trends of the last decade was the decline in share of Americans without health coverage due to the Affordable Care Act. Their numbers fell from about 45 million to 27 million, a gain in coverage for ~18 million people. But this year’s release of the Census Bureau’s health insurance data revealed a troubling reversal of this trend. In 2018 (the data lag one year), the uninsured rate increased for the first time since

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November job gains beat expectations, as Wal S’yas (reversed Say’s Law) takes hold

December 6, 2019

Payrolls rose by 266,000 last month and the unemployment rate ticked down slightly to 3.5%. Hourly wage growth for all private sector workers remained where it has been, up 3.1%, year-over-year, while the pay of lower-wage workers–the 82% of payroll employment that’s blue collar in factories and non-managers in services–has been trending up a bit, and was up 3.7% last month (a slight tick down from 3.8% in October). With inflation running around 2%, this translates into solid real wage gains for these workers. The stronger trend for lower-paid workers is also a reminder of who disproportionately benefits from persistently high-pressure labor markets.

The November jobs number of 266K was boosted by the return of almost 50,000 strikers due to the end of the GM strike. Thus, much like we

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Things to like, not like, and to be unsure about re Sen. Warren’s M4A plan (along with a mea culpa)

November 5, 2019

Along with many others, I’ve had lots of things to say about Sen. Warren’s Medicare for All (M4A) plan, some positive, some negative, some head-scratchy. But because the issue is so politically loaded, both in terms of the Democratic primary and conservative antipathy toward this or any other idea that expands government’s role in health care, and also because of my association with VP Biden, it’s been hard to have a straight up policy discussion.
In a CNBC TV debate, for example, I was asked what I thought about how Sen. Warren’s numbers added up. I responded, “In terms of making the numbers add up — yeah, there are a lot of questions there, but in fact I think she’s done a very good job of focusing the debate on those questions.” Later, an article showed up without the last half of the

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October jobs report: Robust job growth minus wage pressure equals NOT-full-employment.

November 1, 2019

Payrolls rose 128,000 last month, well above expectations for 85K, and job gains in the prior two months were revised up by 95,000 (a sizable upward revision). Also, the October gain of 128K was dampened by the absence of about 50,000 striking workers at General Motors who are now back at work as the strike ended. In other words, despite slowing global growth, political uncertainty, weakening trade flows hit by the trade war, the U.S. job creation machine remains in high gear.
What’s missing–and it is a serious omission–is wage growth. Yes, wages are rising at a decent yearly clip of around 3% and importantly, they’re beating inflation which is running below 2%. But if anything, wage growth, at least for the series in this report, has decelerated in recent months (see figures below;

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September jobs report: solid, slowing, and not yet at full employment

October 4, 2019

Payrolls rose 136,000 last month and the unemployment rate dipped to 3.5 percent, its lowest rate since the late 1960s. Though the payroll number missed analysts’ expectations (~145,000), the more reliable 3-month average came in at a healthy 157,000, strong enough to put downward pressure on unemployment (the prior two months of payroll data were revised up by 45,000 jobs).
Our monthly smoother takes 3, 6, and 12-month averages of monthly job gains to help pull out the underlying trend out of the noisier monthly data. Over the past 6 months, payroll gains have average 154,000, a deceleration from the 12-month number (179K), but such a pattern is expected in an economy closing in on—though not yet at—full employment.

Wage growth for private-sector workers was up 2.9 percent over the past

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Got work? The highly responsive labor supply of low-income, prime-age workers.

October 3, 2019

[Note: this is draft of a forthcoming paper for CBPP’s Full Employment Project. I posted it here first as I will be referencing its findings at a Brookings inflation conference on Thurs, Oct 3.]
By Jared Bernstein and Keith Bentele[i]
The benefits to running a hot labor market continue to be evident both in the data and in anecdotal accounts. In our last paper, we examined the monetary policy rationale for allowing high-pressure labor markets to continue to flourish.[ii] We also focused on the benefits of persistently low unemployment to lower income workers, through both higher real pay and more hours of work. In this short paper, we turn back to this evidence, with a closer focus on the benefits of high-pressure labor markets to the labor supply of lower-paid workers.

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The King of the Blues Birthday!

September 16, 2019

Google tells me that today would have been BB King’s 94’th birthday, so I got my booty over to YouTube to queue up one of my fav BB jams–Let’s Get Down to Business! BB crushes it, of course, but also dig busy-yet-funky electric bass playing by Jerry Jemmott.
“Whatever made us breakup baby
I don’t know til today
But if it was my fault
I swear I’ll change my ways!”

Share the post "The King of the Blues Birthday!"

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How hot labor markets can lead to misleading median comparisons.

September 10, 2019

The Census income and earnings data sometimes have a confusing characteristic that is not uncommon in these sorts of data, especially in periods of tight labor markets, as was 2018. The issue has to do with changes in medians from one year to the next.
For example, the data that came out this morning showed that for both men and women full-time, full-year workers, real annual earnings rose 3.4 and 3.3 percent, respectively, 2017-18. But for all ft/fy workers, combining both genders, earnings fell 0.6 percent. The decline was statistically insignificant, but jeez–that’s confusing, right? Why would earnings fall, overall, in a year with a clearly solid job market, especially when both genders did pretty well?
A number have folks have asked me about this today–a similar dynamic is in the data

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The 2018 Poverty, Income, and health coverage results: a tale of three forces.

September 10, 2019

This morning, the Census Bureau released new data on health insurance coverage, poverty, and middle-class incomes. While the data are for last year, they shine an important light on key aspects of families’ living standards that we don’t get from the more up-to-date macro-indicators, like GDP and unemployment.
As the economic recovery that began over a decade ago persisted through 2018, poverty once again fell, by half-a-percentage point, from 12.3 percent to 11.8 percent. Other results from the report show that anti-poverty and income support programs lifted millions of people out of poverty, including 27 million through Social Security alone. Though the real median household income—the income of the household right in the middle of the income scale—increased slightly less than 1 percent

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Payrolls slow and the trade war is hurting manufacturing. But underlying job market still solid.

September 6, 2019

Payrolls rose by 130,000 last month and the unemployment rate held at 3.7 percent, close to a 50-year low and the same level as the past 3 months. Still, job growth is cooling (25,000 of this month’s gains were temporary decennial Census workers), as the pace of monthly gains, while still strong enough to support low unemployment, has slowed. Wage growth also stayed parked at about where it has been in recent months, and there’s some evidence that the trade war is taking a toll on factory jobs. However, the job market remains strong, real wages are growing, and consumer spending will continue to be supported by these dynamics.
The slowdown in payrolls
To get a clearer take on the underlying trend in job growth, our monthly smoother shows the average monthly gain over 3, 6, and 12-month

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The NYT wrote a woefully imbalanced piece on Opportunity Zones.

September 3, 2019

A number of people (OK, four…but it’s early) have asked me to respond to the NYT piece from last Sunday on how the Opportunity Zone tax break is nothing but a boon to the rich. As I’ve written in a few opeds, I’ve been a cautious supporter of the program, though I’ve been careful to make the points that a) it’s too early to say much about outcomes, and b) while OZs have the potential to become a wasteful tax shelter mechanism, some early signs are hopeful. And, as the Times points out, some early signs are not.
The problem is, the piece was a list posing as an analysis. It just lists many examples of rich people getting the tax break through the program without a shred of evidence that poor people and places aren’t getting helped. That’s largely because, as noted, it’s simply too early to

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Recession Readiness and State UI Trust Funds

August 22, 2019

Given the recent dramatic spike in media coverage of our economic headwinds and recession readiness over the past week, we decided to take a closer look at the balance sheets of state unemployment insurance (UI) trust funds. While the Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for overseeing the UI system and paying administrative costs, the basic program is managed and mostly funded by the states. Using the most recent final data available from the Treasury Department, we analyzed the number of state UI trust funds that meet DOL’s recommended minimum solvency standard. This standard is measured using a ratio called the  “Average High Cost Multiple,” where a value of 1 means that trust fund reserves could pay out at least 1 year of benefits during a recession of average depth– states with an

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