There hasn’t been a better time to find a job since the final days of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
The government on Friday reported the economy added 261,000 jobs in October and the unemployment rate fell to 4.1%. That’s the lowest level since December 2000, a month before the end of Clinton’s second term.
Although hiring was exaggerated by an expected rebound in employment after hurricanes Irma and Harvey, the labor market is red-hot.
That’s great news for the economy — and for anyone still looking for work. The creation of millions of new jobs in the past five years has boosted U.S. growth and shored up the confidence of anxious Americans after the nerve-wracking years following the Great Recession.
Even better, the labor market shows no sign whatsoever of cooling off. The government is likely to report this week that job openings across the country were either near or at a record high. In July, openings hit a record 6.14 million before falling slightly in August.
One of the biggest problems companies face in filling open jobs is finding the right applicant. Virtually any American with high education or good skills has already been snapped up.
Companies haven’t complained so much about a shortage of skilled workers in two decades. Construction firms, manufacturers and small businesses have complained the most. A report by the National Federation of Independent Business on Tuesday should shed more light on the problems faced by small firms.
The ultra-tight labor market explains why the rate of layoffs in the U.S. is the smallest since the early 1970s. Initial jobless claims fell in late October to the second lowest level since a expansion got underway in mid-2009.
With good help so hard to find, companies are reluctant to let even marginally talented employees go.
If there any surprise, it’s that wages aren’t growing as fast as hiring. Companies are reluctant to raise pay and they’ve sought to recruit or retain employees through other, less costly means such as better benefits.
“Wage growth remains elusive,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist of Bank of the West.
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Still, a job is a job even if the pay isn’t great. Americans are less worried about losing their jobs and more confident in the economy than they’ve been in a long time.
The consumer sentiment index, for example, reached a 13-year high in October. Another strong reading is expected in Friday’s report for November.