Fed meets as demand for workers stokes red-hot labor market

Dive Brief:

  • Federal Reserve policymakers began a two-day meeting Tuesday as fresh data showed that job openings rose and layoffs fell in September despite central bank efforts to cool the red-hot labor market and curb the highest inflation in nearly four decades.
  • In a sign that inflationary wage pressures persist, layoffs in September declined and job openings increased 437,000 to 10.7 million, far exceeding the 5.8 million people seeking employment, the Labor Department said.
  • Roughly 4.1 million workers quit their jobs in September, the Labor Department said. The quits rate, or the number of workers who left their jobs as a percent of total employment, held at 2.7, well above the pre-pandemic level and an indication that workers are confident of getting higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

Dive Insight:

In an encouraging sign for efforts by Fed policymakers to rein in demand, new data showed that U.S. manufacturing slowed in October close to stagnation, with orders falling for the fourth time in five months.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) index of manufacturing for October dipped 0.7 point to 50.2, just 0.2 point above the border between contraction and expansion. Job openings in manufacturing fell during September, the Labor Department said.

“The U.S. manufacturing sector continues to expand, but at the lowest rate since the coronavirus pandemic recovery began,” Timothy Fiore, chair of the ISM’s manufacturing business survey committee, said Tuesday.

“With panelists reporting softening new order rates over the previous five months, the October index reading reflects companies’ preparing for potential future lower demand,” Fiore said in a statement.

Despite any reassurance from flagging manufacturing, Fed policymakers will likely parse other data suggesting that their most aggressive effort to curb prices in 40 years has so far fallen short.

Worker pay and benefits surged 5% during the third quarter compared with the same period last year.

The gain in the employment cost index lagged inflation, indicating that wage pressures may persist in the unusually tight labor market despite the Fed’s most aggressive withdrawal of stimulus since the 1980s.

Stiff competition for workers and a recent report that the economy grew 2.6% last quarter suggest that the Fed on Wednesday will likely increase the main interest rate by 0.75 percentage point for the fourth straight meeting.

Fed tightening slowed 12-month gains in the Consumer Price Index to 8.2% in September from 9.1% in June, the highest inflation in 40 years.

Yet the central bank’s preferred measure of inflation — the core personal consumer expenditures price index — increased 5.1% on an annual basis in September compared with 4.9% in August, the Labor Department said Friday.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell and other policymakers have repeatedly said that the central bank needs to see some months of falling price pressures before it begins to slow its policy tightening and feel confident inflation is declining toward its 2% goal.

Central bank officials have pledged to withdraw stimulus and hit their inflation goal even at the risk of a setback for businesses and a slump in employment.

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