This Labor Market Is Not Loosening Further: Fed Gets More Reason for Wait-and-See

But the headlines-grabbing layoff announcements had the effect of calming the churn.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

The global layoff announcements by big companies, and the scary headlines they entailed, and actual layoffs that everyone could see, have had the effect of making employees more worried about their jobs, and instead of quitting to get a better job, more people keep their nose to the grindstone. With fewer people quitting, there are fewer job openings that they left behind, and fewer hires to fill them. So that massive churn got wrung out of the system.

But the labor market then stopped loosening further. Job openings have remained essentially unchanged for months at very high levels, quits have stabilized, hires have risen, and layoffs and discharges remain below prepandemic levels – all documenting a still tight labor market.

Voluntary quits – workers that quit a job on their own to take another job or to do whatever – rose for the second month in a row to 3.48 million in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics today.

Employment has grown over the years, so it’s helpful to look at quits as a percent of nonfarm employment. It shows how the labor market tightened in the years before the pandemic, and in February this year, at 2.2%, was right back where it had been in 2018 and just a tad below 2019, having worked off the entire quit-mania during the pandemic. Those layoff announcements really had an effect:

The quit-mania during the pandemic amounted to a massive churn for employers, who suddenly had lots of job openings left behind by people who quit, and had to hire lots of people to fill those newly opened jobs.

Job openings had been declining sharply in 2023 as fewer people quit, leaving behind fewer openings that had to be filled, and as companies dialed back their hiring aspirations. But since October, job openings have sort of flattened out at still very high levels.

In February, job openings ticked up to 8.76 million, up by 25% from the already fairly high levels in 2019, indicating a still hot employment environment. But the massive churn that prevailed during the pandemic has calmed down.

This data is based on surveys of about 21,000 work sites, released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as part of its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). This is not based on internet job postings.

As employment has grown over the years, so should job openings. When the percentage of job openings to employment increases, it’s a sign that the labor market is tightening.

In February, job openings rose to 5.6% of nonfarm employment, compared to 4.8% during the tightest month before the pandemic, and the percentage has been stable at this level over the past five months. The three-month average has been stable for three months at around 5.6%:

Job openings vary by industry.

  • In Professional & business services, a huge category where many tech and social media companies are, job openings have been rising since July.
  • In Information, job openings have been zigzagging higher, driven perhaps by AI mania.
  • In healthcare, job openings are still in the astronomical zone and are rising again.
  • In Construction, they’ve been at record levels for months.
  • In Manufacturing, job openings started to increase again and are much higher than before the pandemic.
  • But in Wholesale trade and in Transportation, warehousing & utilities, job openings have swooned back to prepandemic levels.
  • In Retail trade (mostly brick-and-mortar retail), job openings dropped to 2015 levels, from the pandemic spike, as part of the continued Brick-and-Mortar Meltdown, as I’ve called it since 2017.

Hires rose to 5.82 million, the most since September. As a percent of nonfarm employment, hires rose to 3,7%, also the highest since September. The three-month average rose to 3.7%, first increase since September:

Layoffs and discharges rose to 1.72 million. These layoffs and discharges, though up from the pandemic lows, are still lower than they were before the pandemic.

In 2014-2019, layoffs and discharges averaged 1.8 million per month, part of the normal way of business. In March and April 2020, they averaged over 10 million.

This data is based on surveys of about 21,000 work sites, released by the BLS today, and not based on global layoff announcements in the media.

Layoffs and discharges as a percent of nonfarm employment ticked up to 1.04%. Before the pandemic, this ratio was around 1.2%. During the pandemic layoffs in the spring of 2020, it spiked to nearly 6%, then plunged to 0.9% as labor shortages defined the labor market.

Not all of the headline-grabbing layoff announcements translated into equal workforce reductions. For example, Alphabet announced in January 2023 that it would lay off 12,000 employees globally. Based on its quarterly reports however, its global headcount dropped by only 8,913 employees in Q2 2023, and has been rising again since then. Google was laying off fewer people than announced through one door – just getting rid of some deadwood? – while hiring people through another door.

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  86 comments for “This Labor Market Is Not Loosening Further: Fed Gets More Reason for Wait-and-See

  1. DTH says:

    What’s the chances the job openings represent filled jobs where the employer is simply looking to replace current employees with better quality ones and/or ones who will accept lower pay?

    It seems it would be a logical thing to do after everybody rushed to fill positions at almost any price. Now that the positions are filled, why not take some time to adjust and see if you can get the labor costs down.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Firing existing workers and replacing them with new workers is standard practice and is included here, and we discussed it here under the section “Layoffs and discharges,” where employers routinely fire 1.5 million to 1.9 million workers per month for whatever reasons. Voluntary quits are not included in this category of Layoffs and Discharges.

      • Einhal says:

        Yes, but are they doing it to get labor costs down (as DTH is wondering) or are they doing it because the employees they want to replace suck and they figure they might be able to get someone better?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          They’re doing it “for whatever reason,” as I said. Always have.

        • Gattopardo says:

          There are all kinds of laws preventing employers from firing people simply to try to rehire cheaper.

        • NYguy says:

          Laws don’t matter; seen it done by shadier small contractors to uncle scam who was only too happy to look the other way in order to get what the government needed out of a contract. You go the whistleblower route and you’re toast, seen it many times. If you want to know why there’s so much corruption in corporate America

        • Zaridin says:

          A law is only a law if enforced. If the enforcers have no incentive to enforce, then they don’t…so there is no law.

  2. Bull Market says:

    This is in parallel to what I see. Small fraction of people around me are getting laid off. But they are finding new jobs quickly or starting their own businesses. As I see, very few people around me has unemployment problem.

  3. Bond Vigilante Wannabe says:

    Nice pop on 30 year treasury rates today. Gapped up and at top of Bollinger Band. RSI only at about 58, so good shot at big blowout.

    Perhaps the buyers of long term treasuries aren’t so excited about 3 rate cuts in an accelerating economy? Imagine that!

    Hopefully this will finally get long term bond rates up and bring on a much needed correction (maybe a change in policy, but I think that is optimistic).

    Hilarious to hear “technical analysts” dismissing rate technicals when bonds have been in a bear market for almost 4 years. The bond bear market is what is fueling stocks, crypto and everything else, and yet these clowns keep taking it on the chin and urging others to do the same.

    Time for the Bond Vigilantes to get ready for a comeback.

    To help inaugurate the Bond Vigilante Support Group on social media (for people suffering from ZIRP PTSD) I need to get some help selecting a theme song.

    I was thinking “Wanted Man” by RATT (which is what you felt like if you were searching for opportunities to short credit in the ZIRP era– as in wanted in all the wrong ways), or “Ride Like the Wind” by Chris Cross (about an outlaw heading to the Mexico– clearly a better place to short bonds). Unfortunately both of these are early to mid 1980s, back when the bond vigilantes were still a thing prior to being hunted to near extinction and having sightings of them being less than those of Bigfoot.

    Does anyone have any ideas?

    • MM says:

      Twisted Sister – We’re Not Gonna Take It

      • TulipMania says:

        ZIRP– We’re Not Gonna Take It!!!

        You can take your bond yields and shove them!!!(?)

    • Glen says:

      Avoid 80s hair bands!

    • Debt-Free-Bubba says:

      Howdy, It is time to face the music Youngins. 70s is back. Good Luck

    • Home toad says:

      Randy newman — Short people got no reason to live.
      Or, get a hair cut and get a”real”job.

    • James Pelton says:

      “What do you do with drunken sailor?” Traditional

      • Paul S says:

        I always enjoyed, “If we make it through December”. Sing it every Christmas for the last 45 years.

    • SuperBubble says:

      How about “Can You Take Me Higher?” by Winger?

      Or “Let’s Get to the Promised Land (of Yields)” by the Temptations?

    • Bond Vigilante Wannabe says:

      I am a little disappointed that Wolf hasn’t chimed in.

      Especially with that pop in yields today.

      If rates can hold this move, we could have a major bond selloff coming…

      Maybe Wolf is busy with a theme song for Wolfstreet…

      • Debt-Free-Bubba says:

        Howdy BVW. No Wolf music comes to mind. An old TV show does.
        Joe Friday. Just the Facts Ma am Dragnet music and no lyrics.

      • Auld Kodjer says:

        99 Luftballons

    • TulipMania says:

      Ride Like the Wind– is that the song that goes:

      “I was born the son of a short selling man,
      Learned to speak my mind with Paul Volcker’s book in my hand…”

      • Bond Vigilante Wannabe says:

        That’s the one.

        • TulipMania says:

          “I have got such a long way to go…
          To short some junk bonds in Mexico…”

      • Bond Vigilante Wannabe says:

        Clearly we need you as a member.

        That is exactly the sort of enthusiasm for higher long term interest rates we need to turn this country around.

  4. MM says:

    Good to see employment remaining strong. Gives the Fed rationale for keeping rates high.

    Mester hinted at that today, saying “I think the bigger risk would be to begin reducing the funds rate too early, and with labor markets and economic growth both being very solid, we do not need to take that risk.”

  5. Seba says:

    Is it possible that rather than the big scary layoff headlines job hoppers have slowed down because they’ve already jumped so high there aren’t much higher wages available in their respective fields? Just a thought I’m having, I feel like there has to be some kind of price limit at which companies just won’t offer any more to fill some positions, am I wrong to think this?

    • Tom H says:

      I’m seeing exactly this ceiling in my contracting hourly rate. Haven’t been able to punch above $100/hr in a niche within cybersecurity and companies are being cheap, actually offering a lot less and outsourcing the recruitment efforts to India. I get half a dozen different Indian headhunters a day all trying to recruit me for the same third party company, and they’re all trying to get me for cheap.

  6. Glen says:

    “As employment as grown” looks like is should be “As employment has grown”

    • Two-Gun Bob says:

      “[L]ooks like is should be” looks like it should be “looks like it should be”.

  7. GuessWhat says:

    As the months pass, it’s obvious that the labor market remains quite buoyant. People complain about most of the jobs being in a few industries or G-Jobs, or part-time jobs. Well, as I’ve said over the last 12-18 months, job gains with < 4% unemployment are at the margins.

    It's not like we're roaring out of a recession, people. The jobs gains today are primarily deficit driven. Yet, the labor market continues to chug along as Wolf routinely points out.

    Slowly, this is building into recognition by various Fed FMOC committee members that higher for longer inflation is here to stay and near-term chances or rate cuts are quickly fading.

    Let's see what Friday brings along with the expected revisions. Just like the March rate cut faded, the June cut mania will do the same. Then, July and September will come and pass without any rate cuts. What happens in the last CY quarter is probably still too far out to get a handle on.

    At some point, a recession will arrive but remains a fool's errand to throw darts at a calendar.

  8. John says:

    Yea job market is strong. Oil rising again which is inflationary. The two year not far from five at 4.75 or so. Gasoline has been rising too. All inflationary. Looks like the government is losing control with more selling of shorter term debt and no longer dumping oil reserves.

  9. Glen says:

    The newly released DJT stock will ultimately eat up all remaining software experts and remaining journalists so just more tightening ahead for much of the labor market. Expect the NASDAQ to spike soon as a result.

    • NYguy says:

      I had the odd thought, what if DJT ends up buying or merging with Tik Tok? The sound from the collective of heads exploding would make krakatoa seem like a black cat.

    • MussSyke says:

      Five minutes later, I’m still trying to figure out if you were serious about something when you made this comment, and if so, what it is you were trying to say. Maybe better just to put my head down and keep moving…

  10. Ed says:

    What is the percentage of the work force employed? If a person is not looking for employment, if even if they are of working age, they are not considered unemployed. Government statistics need to be viewed with a grain of salt. BTW, I am on this site frequently. I don’t know if Wolf ever sleeps.

    • Glen says:

      U-3 and U-6 are the numbers that measure unemployment. Commonly reported is U-3 which is what you might be referring to, and in my subjective opinion isn’t terrible in a strong labor market. U-6 measures underemployed, discouraged and unemployed, which may be what you might be looking for.

      • Glen says:

        Others exist as well on BLS but for example February U-3 is 3.9% and U-6 is 7.3%.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      1. None of the data in this article has anything to do with “unemployed” or the “unemployment rate” or unemployment, or U-1 through U-6, U-Boot, U-Tube, UWork, WeWork, WeDon’tWork, or the labor force. You’re talking about a different data set that we will get this Friday (jobs report).

      2. “I don’t know if Wolf ever sleeps.” No, Wolf is the latest version of Secret-Sauce AI and never sleeps, which is the good thing about AI.

    • vinyl1 says:

      There are large numbers of students, retirees, and stay-at-home moms in the 18-64 age range. They evidently don’t need a job.

      • Bond Vigilante Wannabe says:

        I think you left out meme stock day traders…

        Or is that a job?

        • Doc says:

          I dropped reddit’s Wallstreetbets for Wolfsteet. Reddit’s holding all the meme stock traders and a few Robinhood holdouts.

      • Kent says:

        I’m 62 and retired. Have a corporate pension/annuity, saved and invested a pile. No need for SS until 67. Lots of people like me.

        • fullbellyemptymind says:

          Kent – if you have to say that lots of people like you it usually means that they don’t…

          Sorry, it’s hard to pass on a dad joke that’s just hanging there in the ether. And congratulations, I know how good it feels to see the light at end of the tunnel without worrying that it’s a train headed your way.

          56 – semi retired and I don’t miss the office one bit. Very few people actually like me, but many tolerate me.

      • The Real Tony says:

        Retirees only need to get a job when interest rates plunge for an extended period of time. Retirees are now they flush with cash and newfound wealth all due to higher interest rates.

  11. LordSunbeamTheThird says:

    In the UK we have 40% tax rate on income which kicks in at around the same level that you stop qualifying for child benefit (if you have been foolish enough to have children the UK government will return some tax so the poor kids don’t starve to death), with a secondary 20% purchase tax(VAT).
    The government is astonished that the upper echelons are dropping out of the workforce. Cue more migrants except increasingly obvious that doesn’t work.

    • OutWest says:

      My general understanding is that, to your point, you are having less children, older folks are retiring, and migrants are filling the gap and becoming the next generation of leaders.

  12. Aman says:

    Dear Wolf, not completely related to this post but you have mentioned elsewhere that real incomes are actually going up for Americans.

    I that indeed correct? According to this Fred (series/RPI) at Fred the real incomes are much lower than prepandemic

    So there are plenty of jobs, employment is good but overall real incomes aren’t there where they were pre-pandemic. What am I missing

    • Aman says:

      Sorry my bad. I see the error in my thinking.

      For everyone else in case they are interested…

      The Real income is up since pandemic but growing at a much lower rate than pre-pandemic trend.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Real incomes lost ground in 2021 and 2022 during the inflation spike, but in 2023 and so far this year, they have risen.

      During the pandemic, consumers got all the free money, so that caused incomes to spike, and charts show those spikes, and those spikes are now over.

      There is not a single data set that I know of that shows that real incomes are lower now than before the pandemic.

      The data set you cite (“Real Personal Income” at FRED) is up 7% from Feb 2020.

      Real disposable income per capita is up 4% from Feb 2020

      “Personal income less transfer payments” — one of the charts I like to show because they exclude the free-money spikes — is up 6.5% from Feb 2020.

      There are others with similar increases in real incomes since Feb 2020.

      • Tom S. says:

        The data doesn’t update frequently, and it’s census bureau, but real median household income took a big hit over the pandemic. I wanted to do a study comparing real median with real average, to show the top heavy nature of the income gains, but couldn’t find the right data on the fed site.

    • MM says:

      Think of all the interest income that basically didn’t exist during the low rates era. You don’t need that much saved up in CDs/Bills to generate a few thousand$$ add’l income each year.

      That’s the flip side to higher rates.

  13. Midwest Ralph says:

    Long time reader first time posting!

    Some of the churn slowdown could be related to people staying in their new improved positions for a bit? Lots of people have moved into a better position, but it helps to get some tenure before the next jump. Will we see another wave in 2-3 years if the labor market is still tight as people re-jump up to another better position?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      There’s probably some of that. Productivity has come up a lot recently, in part perhaps because workers have found jobs that utilize their abilities more, and in part because staying longer in job avoids the first part of the learning curve that every new hire goes through, which is really rough on productivity.

  14. Nick Kelly says:

    So the Fed is cooling fast on rate cuts and the markets don’t like it.
    OK, the Fed never promised cuts but with a majority of this ‘dot plot’ thing let’s say ‘hinting at multiple cuts, 3 or 4 ? in 24 and now maybe just one, doesn’t the market, including small investors feel misled, and are they completely without a case? A jilted market could say the Fed teased rate cuts.

    Just have your meetings of the reserve banks, exchange views and unless certain, issue press release: ‘future action data dependent.’

    Moving to an issue in Canada: PM Trudeau said he hopes for a rate cut from the BoC later this year. This is close to political interference with the BoC. Mild compared to the lashing Powell got when he tried some baby steps to raise rates… but still.

    The BoC can’t be accused of hinting at rate cuts because it’s never said anything but ‘data dependent’. The key piece of data: what does the Fed do?

    • Nicko2 says:

      Inflation IS still high. Where is inflation falling? Last week the State Department even asked Ukraine to stop striking Russian oil facilities for fear it will push up global energy prices. There are 60 major national elections around the world this year, tremendous political upheaval and uncertainty.

    • Desert Rat says:

      “doesn’t the market, including small investors feel misled”

      Who cares.

      • MM says:


        Anyone foolish enough to buy TLT based on rate cut hopium deserves their L.

    • MM says:

      Powell does say data-depedant all the time fwiw. The market just refuses to listen.

      • ChrisFromGA says:

        He did shift language in December 2023 to lead Wall Street to believe that there would be cuts in 2024.

        He’s now facing the humiliating prospect of having to back off that. That was a big screwup from the Powell.

        More popcorn, please!

    • ChrisFromGA says:

      The Fed honed its’ own Hell.

      They should have just kept their traps shut in December. Kept policy neutral. Instead, they jawboned for rate cuts, and now the credit markets have them caught offsides.


      • Debt-Free-Bubba says:

        Howdy ChrisFromGA. Not really and Oops. All coordinated, Planned. Just another FED / Govern ment Tool used on US. Don t forget its an election year too.

        • ChrisFromGA says:

          Oh I do agree that it was political. Mere talk of rate cuts probably achieved the same degree of financial loosening that an actual rate cut or two would.

          Powell is going to pay for it now, though.

        • Debt-Free-Bubba says:

          Howdy ChrisFromGA. YEP, those that prepared for our current situation are loving our current times. Powell will get prizes when the dust settles…

    • Paul S says:

      I have read many many times that the BOC has stated there might be a rate cut this year, but timing is iffy. Of course it always depends on what the US does with their rate in order to peg our dollar at 75 cents. No match the dollar will rise, and yes I am old enough to remember our dollar at $1.03. At 75 cents forestry is booming, and new mines going in. Too many tourists, but people are working and getting paid well.

    • The Real Tony says:

      Trudeau was a school teacher but with no background in economics. What Canada needs is higher interest rates not lower rates to reverse all the damage done to the economy.

  15. Petunia says:

    I follow the tech and real estate markets in certain areas I know well. Tech started going downhill in late 2022. Many job postings at big tech employers have been around for at least 3 years, so I don’t believe the data. I know actual techies out of work more than a year. The real estate markets in those areas are also down, especially in the last year. Not surprisingly, the luxury retail space is following suit, especially since last summer. This is what I am seeing with my own eyes.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      “Many job postings at big tech employers have been around for at least 3 years, so I don’t believe the data.”


      Here is what it says:

      “This data is based on surveys of about 21,000 work sites, released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as part of its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). This is not based on internet job postings.”

    • Jon says:

      Someone who is deep into tech and a tech worker oneself I can corroborate what you are saying.

      Tech job market has become quite tough .

    • Dataman says:

      Long time reader of Wolfstreet, and occasional commenter. The Labor market is tight, based on my observations. I live in the SE Denver Metro area and Target is looking for workers at $17.75/hour. I came across a coup of articles recently about the shortage of healthcare workers and accountants. And if you watch TV, Home Depot has been advertising about the need for skilled trades people.

      This has been confirmed by a an article on the Business Insider website today “7 jobs that pay well and have a ton of hiring demand right now”. (Wolf I am including the link you can delete it you want:
      The list of jobs are Construction Workers, Healthcare, Sign Language Interpreters, Teachers, Accountants and Auditors, Software developers/engineers and Civil Engineers.

      I am in healthcare but on the IT side (data management). I make north of $145K/year with a 10% bonus. Even though I am happily employed I still get emails from recruiters looking for people with my skill set. If IT workers with any kind of data background get laid off, they will not be our of work for long. Just my observations

      • jon says:

        My company sent most of its IT Data Management Job to India as it is much cheaper.

        Also, all of the routine IT jobs are being outsourced.

        Another cheap way for companies to hire IT talent is via H1B visas ( capped to 80K/year I think ), L1 visas ( no cap ).

        H1B/L1 visas are meant to fulfil specialty positions not fulfilled by US Citizens but there are loopholes used by corps to replace US workers with cheaper people. I have first hand experience with these.

  16. WB says:

    So, are we to conclude that The Fed has been too successful on their employment mandate? Maybe, but at what cost? Does anyone really believe that there will be no consequences related to DECADES of manipulation in the bond market and bailouts of banking and finance (MBS purchases). Bad behavior has been rewarded for decades, there will be consequences.

    At least that’s how my portfolio is positioned. From the standpoint of a landlord, I am glad people have incomes to pay my rents! Couldn’t be happier!

  17. billy says:

    A closer look at the graph shows that the Job Openings as % of Nonfarm Employment has been on the decline since 2023.

  18. Glen says:

    Unrelated but grateful I found WolfStreet. Watched a recent video on virtual kitchens where a single kitchen was represented on Door Dash and other platforms as 16 different restaurants with identical menus. Reminds of the corporate news media especially in the US where you are drowned out by multiple sites pushing the same garbage, whether it be economic or other news. Obviously every news source has a slant but really hard to find the least subjective grains of land in a sea of corruption. The only difference between the media landscape and virtual kitchens was at least the food was good so it was just squeezing out the small businesses which is bad but at least not “literaturely” poisoned.

  19. Gen Z says:

    In Toronto there are mile long queues for part time minimum wage jobs.

    • Glen says:

      Their rate is only slightly higher than here in California where we of course measure it in km. Sounds like a reddit thread more than a reality related probably to international students. I will grant you that developed countries want low cost labor but that is hardly unique to Canada or new.

    • The Real Tony says:

      Even where I live I see less help wanted signs in the windows as they’re busing more landed immigrants into and out of the city. None of the locals work or will ever work.

  20. Northernlights says:

    April 4 headlines with a very different story depending on the source:

    ‘Powell still expects Fed to lower rates this year as inflation follows a ‘bumpy’ path down to 2% ‘(Yahoo Finance)

    Powell: “If the economy evolves broadly as we expect, most FOMC participants see it as likely to be appropriate to begin lowering the policy rate at some point this year.”

    ‘US may be forced to delay interest rate cuts, warns Powell’ (The Telegraph)

    Powell: “We do not expect that it will be appropriate to lower our policy rate until we have greater confidence that inflation is moving sustainably down toward 2pc. Given the strength of the economy and progress on inflation so far, we have time to let the incoming data guide our decisions on policy.”

    Unless there is something crazy like a meteor strike I find it hard to believe the Fed will drop rates. Inflation is waiting to really rev up again and there is so much money floating around that the last thing we need is more money floating around.

    The whole cause and effect thing is lost on so many people.

    Washington: ‘Let’s give everybody $100 to but a new hat!’

    Business: ‘Time to make hats!’

    Americans: ‘I can’t figure out why hats cost so much.’

    • The Falcon says:

      “Unless there is something crazy like a meteor strike I find it hard to believe the Fed will drop rates.”

      I watched a movie once about a giant meteor that was heading toward Earth and impact was like a year away, and I think the President froze prices on everything. I think we need something like that to stop this “transitory” inflation. But no real meteor, just a Fake News Meteor.

  21. Alpha says:

    So many job listings are FAKE FAKE FAKE. I got laid off in November and took the slow road to getting a new job. I recently sent out another batch of applications this week and MULTIPLE TIMES the corporate website said I’d “already applied” for a job req back in December that LinkedIn marked as a “new” job.

    So many companies are just reposting fake jobs for months? Years? To appear like they’re growing to anyone doing due diligence on them

  22. Swamp Creature says:

    If you add all the people like myself who work “off the books” the labor market is probably even tighter than reported.

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