Fourth Week of May Edges Positive
The fourth week of May broke through the negative streak and posted a very modest increase in sales. Independent grocers reported that their same store sales were up 0.02 percent in the fourth and final week of the month compared to the same period in 2017. The customer count was down 0.54 percent.
Predictably, the slight gain in sales over the final week was not enough to turn around the month overall. May 2018 ended with sales down 1.11 percent compared to the month in 2017. The customer count showed similar numbers, down 0.83 percent.
Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its May unemployment report, which was again strong. There was a net gain of 223,000 jobs and the unemployment rate ticked downward to 3.8 percent, the lowest it’s been in decades. Revisions of the job totals from the previous two months were up 15,000 jobs than previously reported and hourly earnings increased by eight cents.
It wasn’t that long ago when the unemployment rate was close to 10 percent and the size of the labor force was shrinking every month. The idea of a sub four percent rate and a sustained average of close to 200,000 jobs a month for several years seemed like a pipe dream, yet here we are. At this stage of very low unemployment, there could be little room for improvement at the current level of labor participation, which had been steadily falling since the late 1990s and has been stuck around 63 percent for the past several years. Is this the new normal, or are there initiatives that could get more people participating in the labor force?