Finance

Top economist goes on alert after jobs growth falls to a 2011 level

Wilmington Trust’s Luke Tilley is worried a bearish trend in the employment numbers will hurt the economy’s strongest part: consumers.

According to the firm’s chief economist, the U.S. is seeing its lowest year-over-year jobs growth since 2011, which was just two years into the economic recovery.

“Things are slowing down,” he told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Monday. “Any time you see something that’s first time since 2011, it really gets your attention.”

Tilley, a former economic advisor to the Philadelphia Fed, stresses the issue in a nonfarm payrolls chart.

“Not only have we had a slowdown in the month-over-month job growth, we also had an announcement from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that they’re going to be revising downward the growth from 2018 and 2019 down by about half a million jobs,” he said. “If you incorporate that in the current data, we have a slowdown to the slowest job growth in year over year since that we’ve had since 2011.”

Tilley mostly blames the U.S.-China trade war for the worrisome numbers — not a late economic cycle phenomenon.

“The next round of tariffs on imports from China are going to fall on the consumer. We know that the consumer is the strongest part of the economy,” he said.

The Federal Reserve reported Monday that July consumer borrowing increased at its fastest pace in two years. The activity, which was driven by a leap in credit card use, is a sign consumers are spending strongly.

But until there’s a resolution on the trade front, Tilley suggests tariff pressure could overcome consumers and push recession risks higher. If the Dec. 15 round of China tariffs are officially implemented, he warned, they will have painful consequences on spending.

“There are no real amount of Fed cuts that could in our view avert a recession if we continue to amp up those trade and tariffs,” Tilley said. “We do view the Fed as doing its part to help, but it’s not really the right medicine for what’s ailing the patient right now.”

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