Those throngs of applicants for Amazon warehouse jobs are sending a very troubling signal about the job market

  • Amazon’s “Jobs Day” drew thousands of applicants across the country this week
  • The huge crowds should be taken as evidence that — contrary to what the Federal Reserve says — full employment in the US is a myth.
  • People who stood in lines for hours ed officials who think the economy is at full employment should get out more

Federal Reserve officials say the US economy is at or very close to full employment. The thousands of Americans who lined up in the searing heat this week after Amazon said it was hiring 50,000 workers for fairly low-paying, physically demanding jobs in high-pressure warehouses, suggests otherwise.

Perhaps the Fed could have sent a staffer to observe the lines, and talk to some of the people on them for insight into the real economy.

Here’s what Washington Post reported about the Baltimore location, one of 12 around the nation conducting these cattle-call mass hires:

“Lisa Pendry has been laid off eight times since 2008, and each time it’s been even harder to find a new job. This time, she’s spent three months searching. But it’s tricky to find companies that are hiring, she says, and even more difficult to get an in-person interview. ‘I’ve got three kids to feed,’ said Pendry, 44, who most recently worked as an administrative assistant for Allstate Insurance. ‘It doesn’t matter what it is anymore, I just need a job.'”

Which is why Pendry decided to stand in line for hours on a sweltering day, in the hopes of just getting a foot in the door. The jobs offer between $US12-$US15 an hour, well above the minimum wage. Crucially, they also offer healthcare benefits, absent in a lot of low-income jobs.

The day did not end as Pendry had hoped. After five hours of waiting, she gave up. “It would have been another three or four hours before we got anywhere. That line of thousands of people waiting around all day without food — that tells you everything you need to know about the job market,” Pendry said.

It does indeed: Speed dating for jobs, and most people end up alone.

US workers know all too well the labour market is a mere shadow of its pre-Great Recession self, but policymakers in Washington are bent on insisting otherwise. With the official unemployment rate at a historically low 4.4%, Fed officials seem bent on raising interest rates and shrinking its balance sheet despite inflation that continues to slip below their 2% target, indicating yet more room for the economy to grow more evenly.

Underemployment is still rampant and wages have been stuck in a rut for a prolonged period.

“This experience shows we have not had the labour market recovery that a lot of economists have suggested,” said Marshall Steinbaum, research director at the Roosevelt Institute, a liberal Washington think tank.

“Fed officials are talking about full employment but that is a misdiagnosis of the current state of the economy,” he told Business Insider. “The wage data is what should rule here and the wage data do not suggest an economy at full employment.”

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