The Labor Market Conditions Index Back Up in January
Following a surprising jobs report for January, the latest update of the Labor Market Conditions Index reflects the improvement.
The LMCI is a relatively recent indicator developed by Federal Reserve economists to assess changes in the labor market conditions. The latest LMCI update came in at 1.3. The previous month was revised upward to 0.6 (previously -0.3). The cumulative index (discussed below) peaked twelve months ago in December 2015.
The indicator, designed to illustrate expansion and contraction of labor market conditions, was initially announced in May 2014, but the data series was constructed back to August 1976. Here is a linear view of the complete LMCI. We've highlighted recessions with callouts for its value the month recessions begin and for the latest index value.
As we readily see, with the exception of the second half of the double-dip recession in the early 1980s, sustained contractions in this indicator is a rather long leading indicator for recessions. It is more useful as a general gauge of employment health. Note that in the most recent FOMC minutes for December 13-14, the phrase "labor market conditions" was used fifteen times. Maximum employment, after all, is one of the Fed's twin mandates.
Interestingly enough, the FEDS Notes article announcing the indicator doesn't chart the complete series with monthly granularity. Instead, the authors use a column chart to show blocks of six-month averages for the two halves of each calendar year since 1977. This approach further supports the use of the indicator as a general gauge of health. Here is our larger version of the same graphic model.
We couldn't resist the urge to create a chart of the more conventional six-month moving average of the indicator. Note that we've adjusted the vertical axis to capture the depth of the contraction during the last recession.
The LMCI hit its interim high in April 2014 and its six-month MA high four months later in August of that year. As all three charts above illustrate, labor market conditions have been weakening.