And the job market keeps growing

By Joe Higgins, Quest 4 Quality

  • Inflation still threatens, with the Consumer Price Index rising from last month
  • The economy added 216,000 new jobs in January, keeping the unemployment rate steady at 3.7%
  • Container costs have doubled amid Houthi attacks in the Red Sea


According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose to 3.4% in December from November’s rate of 3.1%. Economists and the Federal Reserve were disappointed, having  expected it to fall to 3.0%.

We have seen an historic drop in inflation from 9.1% in June 2023 to the current 3.4%, and wages are now increasing faster than prices. However, that’s still not enough for consumers, who are frustrated with food prices that remain higher than before the pandemic. 

In the December CPI report, the cost of shelter was also up and accounted for 50% of the price appreciation, along with insurance and medical bills. In our neck of the woods, prices for appliances and electronics dropped, as did outdoor equipment. 

But what about furniture? That category is now being impacted by the war in the Middle East. Container rates have skyrocketed in the past month as a result of attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on merchant ships in the Red Sea, which is slowing down passage through the Suez Canal.

The cost of shipping a container has doubled since late November, from $1,500 to $3,000, raising  furniture pricing. After a couple of American bombing raids on Houthi camps in Yemen last week, it is likely to get worse.

Even though the CPI report indicates that we have not yet beaten inflation, the Fed will likely continue its pause on interest rate hikes. Moreover, most economists are still convinced that the Fed will move forward with three interest rate cuts beginning next quarter. 


The economy ended 2023 by exceeding all expectations for job creation. I expect to see a normalization of the job market, which will help us achieve Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s goal of a soft landing.

As the Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported, America ended the year by adding 216,000 jobs in December keeping the unemployment rate at 3.7% for the second consecutive month.

Keep in mind that the Fed has spent the last 22 months raising interest rates by 535 basis points in an effort to slow down employment or, in other words, to put more Americans out of work. And yet the opposite happened, with unemployment and layoffs reaching record lows over the past three years. The Fed knows that we are not out of the woods just yet and that we still need more time to assess the real impact of higher rates on key economic indicators. My advice: stay positive, as the economy has performed much better than most pundits predicted over the past two years. 


Last year I wrote about the problems regional banks were having, as their bond portfolios couldn’t support customer withdrawals. At the time, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon predicted a U.S. recession so bad it would be like an “economic hurricane.” Well, this past week JPMorgan Chase reported earnings of $50 billion in 2023, an all-time record. Commented Mr. Dimon, “I never should have used the word hurricane.”

Bottom Line

Don’t get me wrong; there are still headwinds facing our economy. Personal savings are down considerably, credit card debt is at an all-time high and two foreign wars could substantially impact our economy should they get out of hand. 

However, GDP is up, unemployment is down and retail sales increased every month last year. Also, consumer confidence jumped ten points in December, the Dow hit an all-time high and mortgage rates dropped from 8.5% to 6.61%. 

It’s a solid start to what I think will be a good 2024.

Joe Higgins is a 44-year veteran of GE and Whirlpool Corp. who brings his executive experience to bear as a business consultant, AVB keynoter and YSN contributor. Visit his website, Quest 4 Quality with Joe, at

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