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After the Jobs Report: How to Get to 5.5% Unemployment

But to make the improvement last and make it possible for businesses to give workers better raises without sparking inflation, companies will have to change their ways, and investors will have to bring the pressure to make them do it.

So, it's on to full employment now. What will it take?

First, it will take a little bit of time and a little bit of math.

There are about 156 million U.S. workers, and 9.5 million of them are unemployed. Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi says the economy's growth trend right now is 225,000 jobs a month -- a little more or less in given months, depending on short-term events.

So by the September jobs report -- the last one before the election -- that means another 675,000 jobs. Even with a slight increase in the number of workers, that gets you to a rate that rounds up to 5.7%.

But if workforce participation stays low, which is a good bet, or if the summer brings a fatter part of the cycle that produces more reports like today's, 5.5% is possible before the election.

In any event, it's nearly certain by the end of the year -- even if the Fed's most recent year end forecast is for 6% to 6.1%. It's very, very simple math.

The other thing it will take is harder: Businesses have to invest more.

Just as construction and government employment were the missing pieces last year, now the big gap is the persistent unwillingness of corporate America to invest more. From 2011 to 2013, business lobbies and CEOs such as Boeing's (BA) James McNerney and Honeywell's (HON) Dave Cote convinced Congress that deficit reduction was the key to boosting business confidence and job creation. After they got nearly everything they wanted (save a cut in the corporate tax rate), corporations in general boosted investment even less.

In 2011, Corporate America boosted equipment investment nearly 12%. After the budget dealing, that fell to 3.1% growth by last year. And, possibly because of the weather, it actually shrank 2.8% in the first quarter of this year.

That investment is what's needed for more manufacturing jobs, better productivity growth and the kind of expansion that generates wage gains without much inflation. 

So hop to it, boys. Full employment depends on you now.

 

At the time of publication, the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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