Friday’s Jobs Report: Do Americans Agree on Jobs and the Economy?


March 28, 2016

Election season is upon us, and the presidential candidates are vying for the attention of American voters with promises of new jobs, wage growth and greater economic equality.

Between now and November, what happens with unemployment and wages in the monthly jobs report could have a big effect on undecided voters. On the heels of last’s month’s unexpectedly strong jobs report, here’s what we’re watching for on Friday:

  • 177,000 new jobs added to non-farm payrolls in March.
  • Unemployment rate down to 4.8 percent.
  • Average hourly wages up 2.6 percent from one year ago.

Where Do We Stand?
As of today, the labor market is in terrific shape by almost every measure. Unemployment is down to 4.9 percent, weekly claims for unemployment benefits are near historic lows, and the economy has cranked out 223,000 new jobs on average during the past year—well above the 80,000 new jobs needed to keep America’s employment rate steady. Even sluggish wage growth has began trending up recently, as employers struggle to fill a near record number of U.S. job openings.

But despite the overall health of the job market, Americans’ views on jobs and the economy are sharply divided. Republicans and Democrats today see very different things when looking at the same data on the economy. What employment issues are most divisive today?

Divided Priorities
Let’s look at the survey data. Last month, Glassdoor polled 2,015 American adults about their attitudes on workplace issues, exploring differences between self-identified Republicans and Democrats. The results cast light on important differences along political lines.

When asked, “What do you think are the most important employment issues in the 2016 presidential election,” there’s clear divide between parties. For Republicans, overall health of the economy topped the list with 75 percent saying that’s a top election issue. By contrast, the top issue for Democrats was income and wealth distribution. Fifty seven percent of Democrats said inequality was a top concern, compared to only 34 percent of Republicans.

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Other issues where Democrats and Republicans are sharply divided are immigration, gender equality at work, and diversity in the workplace.

On immigration, 36 percent of Republicans flagged it as a top election issue, compared to just 23 percent of Democrats. For gender inequality at work—the subject of our most recent gender pay gap study—33 percent of Democrats named inequality as a priority compared to just 13 percent of Republicans. Finally, while 18 percent of Democrats said diversity in the workplace is an important issue for the presidential candidates to address, just 5 percent of Republicans agree.

Agreeing to Agree
These differences aside, there are still a handful of political issues that unite Republicans and Democrats. According to a recent Gallup poll, both parties agree the following four issues are “important” in the presidential election: Terrorism and national security; healthcare; the overall economy; and employment and jobs. These issues are top of mind with voters regardless of political party, and both Democrats and Republicans rated them as issues with “above average” importance for the 2016 election.

Wages and Inequality
Polls show many other labor market issues also break sharply along political lines. One example is the minimum wage. According to the Pew Research Center, a strong majority of 73 percent of Americans favor increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. However, only 53 percent of Republicans support such a minimum wage hike, while 90 percent of Democrats favor the move.

Another issue that divides Americans is income inequality. Most polls find Democrats generally view inequality as a bigger problem than Republicans. But an interesting finding from the Pew Research Center is that among Republicans, inequality and poverty sharply divide voters. For moderate Republicans, 61 percent say the government should “do something to reduce the gap” between rich and poor. By contrast, 55 percent of conservative Republicans completely disagree with this view, saying government shouldn’t do “much or anything at all” about inequality.

At the end of the day, which party do Americans think will do a better job on jobs and economy? As of December 2015, the Pew Research Center reports that 42 percent of Americans say the Republican party would “do a better job of dealing with the economy,” compared to 37 percent for the Democratic party—a small difference in a poll with a 2.9 percent margin of error. When it comes to “stopping American jobs from going overseas,” Democrats were viewed as doing a slightly better job (28 percent, compared to 24 percent for Republicans).

Making Sense of the Differences
To an economist, it’s puzzling that politics so heavily affect Americans’ view of the labor market. One might imagine that facts simply speak for themselves. Unfortunately, even perfect labor market data can’t tell us everything—we still need a framework for how those facts fit together. That’s where political party affiliation plays a role.

It’s unlikely this Friday’s jobs report will move the election needle much. However, there are seven additional monthly jobs reports before the November 8th election day. Economists will be watching the jobs numbers closely for clues about Americans’ broader political sentiment.

To speak with Dr. Andrew Chamberlain about this month’s jobs report or labor market trends, contact pr [at] glassdoor [dot] com. For the latest economics and labor market updates, subscribe to email alerts here and follow @adchamberlain.