To hear the financial media tell it, the US economy is going great. There are more job openings than unemployed people, companies are falling all over themselves trying to find workers, and the future is bright. But behind the headline numbers, the labor market is showing serious signs of weakness. That weakness is the result of severe structural issues that will be difficult to overcome.
Everyone looks at the headline U-3 number when looking for the unemployment rate. But because of statistical manipulations in the past, the real number that most accurately gauges the actual rate of unemployment is the U-6 number. That number right now is almost twice as high, 7.3% versus 3.6%. That’s a measure not just of the number of unemployed Americans but also of those who are underemployed, working part-time because they can’t find full-time jobs.
Then there’s the fact that wage growth hasn’t been stellar either. Even with a tight job market, employers haven’t been willing to open their pocketbooks. That’s an indicator that business conditions aren’t actually all that great and that businesses aren’t making enough money to pay their employees more.
But the most horrifying numbers are those dealing with the labor force participation rate. That number is only at about 63%, much lower than the 66-67% it had been for decades. And that number hasn’t rebounded since the financial crisis, meaning that declining labor force participation is here to stay.
Part of that may be due to Baby Boomers who are retiring and leaving the workforce. But some of it is also due to younger workers dropping out of the labor market. Millions of men between the ages of 25 and 54 have left the labor market, a discouraging sign to an economy that relies upon working age men for the bulk of its productivity.
Overall, over 100 million adults in the United States are not in the workforce. Those people have to be supported by those who are still in the workforce, whether it’s husbands providing for their stay at home wives or workers paying Social Security taxes to pay for retirees’ Social Security benefits. But as the ratio of workers to non-workers declines, the burden on the employed becomes greater and greater. And with wage growth stagnant it becomes more and more difficult for those workers to provide.
All of this should be a clue to investors that the labor market and the overall economy are not in great shape. That’s all the more reason for investors to safeguard their retirement savings by investing in gold. Only gold offers investors the peace of mind that their assets will there when they need them. Stocks, bonds, and other paper assets can’t offer that security, which those who trust those paper assets will find out the hard way.