Conference Board C-Suite survey; 6/22

Survey: Global C-Suites Feel the Strain of War in Ukraine, with Most CEOs Now Predicting Recession and Fears over Cyber Attacks Escalating

June 17, 2022…Recession. Cyberattacks. Inflation. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, global CEOs have confronted a new world of extraordinary volatility and uncertainty, forcing many to reassess their growth assumptions and put strategic plans on hold. In fact, nearly 8 in 10 now expect a recession in their primary region of operation within the next 12 to 18 months—or believe one is already underway.

At the same time, the war is acting as a change accelerator, speeding new thinking in areas with long-term ramifications—including cyber risk, supply chains, renewable energy, and crisis and contingency planning. An astounding 9 in 10 CEOs are now concerned about Russian retaliation through cyberattacks—an area in which many firms recognized their lack of preparedness before the war.

According to the C-Suite Outlook Mid-Year—a special wartime update of an annual survey conducted by The Conference Board—Ukraine fallout is nearly universal across the world’s C-suites. Just 9 percent of surveyed leaders say the war will have “no material impact” on their business operations in the coming year—but even they are unlikely to escape the effect of surging energy and food prices. Indeed, respondents named its contributions to inflation among the war’s most damaging economic consequence.

Moreover, the mid-year survey reveals how the war has scrambled the landscape of priorities facing CEOs. In addition to cybersecurity soaring in salience, the unprecedented Western sanctions on Russia have elevated the importance of regulators and boards as key stakeholders, as well as raised the urgency of preparing for future economic conflict—especially with China. 

Between May 10 and 24, The Conference Board surveyed 750 CEOs and other C-suite executives, primarily based in North America, Latin America, Asia, and Europe. The results paint the fullest picture yet of the depth and breadth of the war’s impact on the perspectives, priorities, anxieties, and future plans of business leaders around the world. 

Insights from C-Suite Outlook Mid-Year include:

Cybersecurity concerns skyrocket

  • Widespread anxiety: 90 percent of CEOs are now concerned to some degree about Russian retaliation through cyberattacks. 44 percent are highly concerned.
  • A big shift in sentiment: This marks a major change from our January 2022 CEO survey: at that point, just 16 percent of CEOs identified cybersecurity as a high-impact threat.

Inflation: CEOs say it’s the war’s most damaging economic consequence

  • Energy price volatility & higher input costs are the war’s top economic impacts: CEOs cite inflation issues—volatility in energy prices and higher input costs—as the top two issues that will affect their business in the next 12 months.
  • The war has worsened preexisting inflation fears: In our January 2022 survey, conducted before the war, CEOs already ranked inflation as a top threat impacting their companies.
  • How CEOs are mitigating inflation’s impact—passing on costs tops the list: 51 percent cite passing higher input costs onto consumers or end-users—the most-cited tactic; cutting costs is a close runner-up at 47 percent.

Recession fears: most CEOs expect a recession

  • 76 percent expect a recession or believe it’s already here: Among CEOs globally, 15 percent believe a recession is already underway. Another 61 percent expect a recession is forthcoming in their primary region of operation before the end of 2023—if not earlier.

Strengthening supply chains: the number-one action CEOs are taking due to this war

  • Fixing stressed supply chains: The top action companies are taking in response to the war is fixing stressed supply chains.
  • CEOs who are focused on making supply chains more resilient:
    • 53 percent of CEOs globally
    • 78 percent with operations in Russia
    • 72 percent with operations in Ukraine

CEOs favor secondary sanctions, but many worry about the blowback 

  • Most CEOs want secondary sanctions: 62 percent favor secondary sanctions that would be imposed on countries that continue doing business in Russia. 
  • But the blowback concerns them: More than a third—35 percent—of CEOs globally say they are highly concerned about the economic consequences outweighing the benefits:  
    • Secondary sanctions would escalate the economic battleground and set the stage for a fractured economy.

Renewable energy: the war is motivating CEOs to accelerate renewable energy investments 

  • Faster progress: Among CEOs globally, 28 percent say they’re accelerating progress towards the use of renewable energy.

CEOs reshuffle which stakeholders to prioritize: the board and regulators increase in importance

  • Customers, regulators, and the board top the list: When asked which stakeholders’ views are most important as they decide their response to the war in Ukraine, CEOs globally ranked customers first, regulators second, and boards third.
  • Employees ranked lower: Employees have played a less important role in shaping the corporate response to Ukraine than in dealing with non-war related domestic social and political issues.

US-China tensions: CEOs say it will likely have a big impact on their business

  • Many CEOs are concerned: Among CEOs globally, 38 percent say rising US-China tensions resulting from the war in Ukraine will likely have a major impact on business operations in the next 12 months.
  • Serious concerns about competing economic blocs: Meanwhile, 83 percent fear the re-emergence of competing economic blocs, with 43 percent saying they are highly concerned.

CEOs see people and technology as key to long-term growth

  • Digital transformation is critical: Among CEOs globally, 58 percent cite digital transformation as part of their investment plans—the top response.
  • Labor shortages present a challenge: 57 percent are promoting hybrid work models to attract workers, while 43 percent are increasing automation.

Commentary on the survey results

Dana Peterson, Chief Economist, The Conference Board

“Historically high energy prices, renewed supply chain disruptions, heightened geopolitics risks, and eroding consumer confidence are all putting downward pressure on global growth. That’s on top of lockdowns in China and the cascading ripple effects of the war in Ukraine. These disruptions, along with restrictive monetary and fiscal policy decisions, are fueling recession expectations—with nearly 8 in 10 CEOs expecting their primary region of operations to be in recession within 12 to 18 months, if not already underway.”

Lori Esposito Murray, President, Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board

“CEOs say rising US-China tensions are likely to have a major impact on business operations in the coming 12 months, ranking it among the top five impacts. This challenge is contributing to intense fears of a fundamental re-alignment of the global geopolitical landscape—the potential division of the world into competing Cold War–style economic blocs, pitting the US and its allies against China and its allies (including Russia). Such a division is likely to have significant negative impact on global trade and economic growth, and business leaders are awakening to the need to prepare: Already, 60 percent of US CEOs expect an economic decoupling over the next 5-10 years.”

Paul Washington, Executive Director, ESG Center, The Conference Board

“While an escalation of the war in Ukraine is certainly a concern for CEOs and other C-suite executives, their greatest worry is the threat of Russian retaliation through cyberattacks. Before the war, few saw cybersecurity as a major issue facing their companies. Companies need to make cybersecurity a sustained, and not just episodic, priority. Cyberattacks not only imperil a company’s data, operations, and reputation, but can have far-reaching societal and environmental impacts.” 

Sara Murray, Managing Director, International, The Conference Board

“Reducing the use of the US dollar has been an objective of both Russia and China for over a decade, to help shield their currencies from US sanctions and assert global economic leadership. But now, as Russia pursues an aggressive policy to circumvent mounting economic sanctions, they are actively working toward an alternative world order not dependent on the primacy of the US and the dollar. Despite this, CEOs show very little concern about a lessening importance of the US dollar—just 16 percent are highly concerned.”

Rebecca Ray, Executive Vice President, Human Capital, The Conference Board

“As CEOs and other C-suite executives focus on ensuring the long-term growth of their business amid this volatile global environment, addressing labor force challenges will be essential. To do this, firms are doubling down on the hybrid work model, automation, and improving their recruiting processes and communication around business strategy.”

Ivan Pollard, Executive Director, Marketing & Communications Center, The Conference Board

“As the war compounds already serious inflationary pressures, the biggest communications challenge brands now face is addressing rising prices in a forthright and persuasive manner. Trust in corporations has been built up through the long months of COVID-19, but that trust can be eroded if there is any sense of profiteering. Communicating the story to your customers is one to be handled carefully with honesty and transparency.”

Media can contact The Conference Board for interviews.

Media Contacts

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About The Conference Board

The Conference Board is the member-driven think tank that delivers trusted insights for what’s ahead. Founded in 1916, we are a non-partisan, not-for-profit entity holding 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt status in the United States. www.conference-board.org

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Conference Board Leading Economic Index; 5/22

The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® (LEI)for theU.S. decreased by 0.4 percent in May 2022 to 118.3 (2016 = 100), following a 0.4 percent decline in April 2022. The LEI is now down 0.4 percent over the six-month period from November 2021 to May 2022.

“The US LEI fell again in May, fueled by tumbling stock prices, a slowdown in housing construction, and gloomier consumer expectations,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Senior Director of Economic Research at The Conference Board. “The index is still near a historic high, but the US LEI suggests weaker economic activity is likely in the near term—and tighter monetary policy is poised to dampen economic growth even further.”

The Conference Board Coincident Economic Index® (CEI) for the U.S. increased by 0.2 percent in May 2022 to 108.8 (2016 = 100), following a 0.5 percent increase in April 2022. The CEI is up 1.3 percent over the six-month period from November 2021 to May 2022.

The Conference Board Lagging Economic Index® (LAG) for the U.S. increased by 0.8 percent in May 2022 to 112.9 (2016 = 100), following a 0.4 percent increase in April 2022. The LAG is up 3.7 percent over the six-month period from November 2021 to May 2022.

Summary Table of Composite Economic Indexes
   2022   6-month
 Mar Apr May Nov to May
         
         
Leading Index119.3r118.8r118.3p  
  Percent Change-0.1r-0.4r-0.4p-0.4 
  Diffusion50 20 55 40 
         
Coincident Index108.1r108.6r108.8p  
  Percent Change0.0r0.5r0.2p1.3 
  Diffusion50 100 75 75 
         
Lagging Index111.6r112.0r112.9p  
  Percent Change1.0r0.40.8p3.7 
  Diffusion86 57.1 71.4 85.7 
         
p  Preliminary     r  Revised        
Indexes equal 100 in 2016        
Source:  The Conference Board       

The next release is scheduled for Thursday, July 21, 2022, at 10 A.M. ET.

About The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® (LEI) for the U.S.: The composite economic indexes are the key elements in an analytic system designed to signal peaks and troughs in the business cycle. The indexes are constructed to summarize and reveal common turning points in the economy in a clearer and more convincing manner than any individual component. The CEI is highly correlated with real GDP. The LEI is a predictive variable that anticipates (or “leads”) turning points in the business cycle by around 7 months. Shaded areas denote recession periods or economic contractions. The dates above the shaded areas show the chronology of peaks and troughs in the business cycle.

The ten components of The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® for the U.S. include: Average weekly hours in manufacturing; Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance; Manufacturers’ new orders for consumer goods and materials; ISM® Index of New Orders; Manufacturers’ new orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders; Building permits for new private housing units; S&P 500® Index of Stock Prices; Leading Credit Index; Interest rate spread (10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds rate); Average consumer expectations for business conditions.

To access data, please visit: https://data-central.conference-board.org/

About The Conference Board

The Conference Board is the member-driven think tank that delivers trusted insights for what’s ahead. Founded in 1916, we are a non-partisan, not-for-profit entity holding 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt status in the United States. www.conference-board.org Learn more about our mission and becoming a member

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WSJ article on U.S. home equity

By Orla McCaffrey

orla.mccaffrey@wsj.com

Americans have more equity in their homes than ever before.

Total U.S. home equity increased almost 20% in the first quarter to $27.8 trillion, a record high, according to the Federal Reserve. 

The increase is another consequence of a red-hot housing market. Double-digit price gains have driven some would-be homeowners out of the market. At the same time, rising home values are boosting the finances of the Americans who already own them. 

Still, rising rates have made it more expensive for homeowners to use that equity, the difference between the market value of a property and the mortgage balance. 

About 60% of equity was withdrawn via cash-out refinances in 2021, according to mortgage-data firm Black Knight. Homeowners are likely to turn to home-equity lines of credit, said Andy Walden, vice president of enterprise research strategy at Black Knight. Borrowing costs on such products are more closely tied to the Fed’s benchmark rate, which has moved less than mortgage rates this year. The Fed is expected to raise rates again at its meeting this week.


With home-equity lines, borrowers pay interest on the amount of credit they use; with a cash-out refinance, the cash taken out of the home gets added to the outstanding mortgage, meaning the new rate is applied to a higher balance.

The amount of tappable equity increased by a record $1.2 trillion in the first quarter of 2022, to more than $11 trillion, according to Black Knight. Close to 75% of it belongs to borrowers with mortgage rates below 4%, the Black Knight data show. The rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.23% near the beginning of June, according to mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

Black Knight defines tappable equity as the amount homeowners can borrow while holding on to at least 20% of the home’s equity. Average tappable equity available to Americans with mortgages increased to a record $207,000 in the first three months of the year, according to Black Knight.

What a Housing Market Cooldown Could Mean for Inflation and Home Buyers
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“There’s more tappable equity than there’s ever been, but it’s simply become more expensive to borrow against the equity in your home,” Mr. Walden said.

Home equity generally rises alongside home values over time. In the U.S., total equity fell by about 42% between 2005 and 2012, when millions of Americans ended up owing more on their mortgages than their homes were worth. Total equity has been increasing steadily since 2012, and the first quarter’s 20% jump is the largest since 2013.

The equity gains are expected to spark a record amount of home-improvement spending this year, according to CoreLogic Inc.

Steve English decided to take out a home-equity loan worth about $80,000 this spring to replace the roof and deck on his home in Eatonville, Wash. Mr. English had considered the home-improvement work a few years ago, when the deck would have cost about 40% less, he said, but he didn’t have enough equity to borrow against.

His home is worth more than $700,000, according to an appraisal done this year by his home-equity lender, Discover Home Loans. That is more than double the $325,000 he paid in 2016.

“The equity in my home has shot up in the past two years,” Mr. English said. “That definitely influenced my decision to tap it.”

The increase in equity provides another business opportunity for the mortgage industry, which is suffering a decline in volume from the blockbuster mortgage markets of 2020 and 2021.

Mortgage lenders this year are working to weather a sharp drop-off in the number of homeowners refinancing their loans, with demand drying up as interest rates rise.

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Do the following make sense???

Following metrics produced by Bureau of Labor Statistics for May; 2022

Real average hourly earnings for all employees decreased 0.6 percent in May, seasonally adjusted.

In May, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers rose 1.0 percent, seasonally adjusted, and rose 8.6 percent over the last 12 months

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Conference Board Employment Trends Index, 5/22

NEW YORK, June 6, 2022…The Conference Board Employment Trends Index™ (ETI) declined slightly in May to 119.77, down from 120.60 in April 2022 (an upward revision). “The Employment Trends Index fell slightly in May, signaling slowing, but positive job growth in the months ahead. The labor market may have less room for more growth with overall employment down only 0.5 percent compared to the pre-pandemic level,” said Agron Nicaj, Associate Economist at The Conference Board. “However, leisure and hospitality and in-person services industries have yet to fully recover job losses incurred since the pandemic. Employment growth is still expected in these industries as consumers continue to shift more spending away from goods and towards services.”

Nicaj added: “The labor market remains strong amid high inflation and the Federal Reserve is likely to continue its focus on stabilizing prices as a result. A strong response by the Fed risks higher unemployment rates by the end of 2022.”

May’s decline in the Employment Trends Index was driven by negative contributions from four of eight components. From the largest negative contributor to the smallest, these were: the Percentage of Respondents Who Say They Find “Jobs Hard to Get”, Ratio of Involuntarily Part-time to All Part-time Workers, Real Manufacturing and Trade Sales, and Industrial Production.

The Employment Trends Index is a leading composite index for employment. When the index increases, employment is likely to increase as well, and vice versa. Turning points in the index indicate that a turning point in the number of jobs is about to occur in the coming months. The Employment Trends Index aggregates eight leading indicators of employment, each of which has proven accurate in its own area. Aggregating individual indicators into a composite index filters out “noise” to show underlying trends more clearly.

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Wall Street Editorial Board opinion on potential FHA PMI rate cut

Rising mortgage rates on top of sky-high prices are making it harder for Americans to afford a new home. Now the Biden Administration may make matters worse by cutting government mortgage insurance premiums.

Housing prices have surged nearly 40% nationwide since January 2020 and are up 16% in a year. The Federal Reserve is mainly responsible since it kept interest rates near-zero for too long while amassing an enormous portfolio of mortgage-backed securities. This pushed the average 30-year fixed mortgage rates below 3%.

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Cheap credit predictably stoked demand, but supply hasn’t kept pace. Prices have shot up in particular in such metro areas as Austin, Phoenix and Tampa, where many workers relocated during the pandemic. The cost-of-living arbitrage from moving gave them more cash to buy bigger, nicer homes.

The Fed’s housing support has been a boon for current home owners. Many have been able to refinance mortgages and slash their monthly payments by hundreds of dollars. Ninety-eight percent of homes with conventional 30-year mortgages have rates lower than 5%. But the losers are low- and middle-income Americans who don’t own homes and now can’t afford to buy them as the Fed finally raises rates. The 30-year fixed mortgage is now hovering at 5.1% to 5.3%, the highest since the summer of 2009.


This has the Administration looking for ways to offset rising mortgage rates. One idea from the housing lobby is to cut Federal Housing Administration premiums. The FHA insures mortgages for buyers with low credit scores and down payments as low as 3.5%. Home-buyers pay a 1.75% fee up front on a 30-year loan and then an annual premium of 0.8% to 1.05%, depending on the size of the loan and down payment.

The housing lobby says the FHA is well-capitalized and delinquencies are close to pre-pandemic levels. That may be true—for now. But a recession is possible in the next year or two. Homeowners aren’t over-leveraged as they were during the pre-pandemic housing bubble, but Ed Pinto of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) notes that highly levered FHA loans are a weak spot.

Many FHA homeowners could probably avoid foreclosure by selling their homes if they can’t make payments. But this would put downward pressure on housing prices in lower-income neighborhoods, which could then result in more foreclosures. Cutting FHA premiums would increase the risk for taxpayers who would have to cover mortgage losses if the agency can’t.

The idea is also likely to boomerang. An AEI study found that a 50 basis-point cut in FHA’s annual premiums in 2015 had the effect of reducing monthly payments by the same amount as a three-quarter percentage point drop in the mortgage rate. This increased the purchasing power of FHA buyers but also increased prices in neighborhoods with more FHA loans.

The beneficiaries—no surprise—were existing homeowners and Realtors who made larger commissions on higher prices. Mortgage lenders are pushing an FHA premium cut because they want to keep the housing boom going no matter the risks. The Biden Administration will be fooling itself and the public if it thinks it can help home buyers by making FHA loans riskier.

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Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index; May 2022

New York, May 31, 2022The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index® decreased slightly in May, following a small increase in April. The Index now stands at 106.4 (1985=100), down from 108.6 in April (after an upward revision). The Present Situation Index—based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions—declined to 149.6 from 152.9 last month. The Expectations Index—based on consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions—declined to 77.5 from 79.0. 

Consumer confidence dipped slightly in May, after rising modestly in April,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “The decline in the Present Situation Index was driven solely by a perceived softening in labor market conditions. By contrast, views of current business conditions—which tend to move ahead of trends in jobs—improved. Overall, the Present Situation Index remains at strong levels, suggesting growth did not contract further in Q2. That said, with the Expectations Index weakening further, consumers also do not foresee the economy picking up steam in the months ahead. They do expect labor market conditions to remain relatively strong, which should continue to support confidence in the short run.”

Meanwhile, purchasing intentions for cars, homes, major appliances, and more all cooled—likely a reflection of rising interest rates and consumers pivoting from big-ticket items to spending on services. Vacation plans have also softened due to rising prices. Indeed, inflation remains top of mind for consumers, with their inflation expectations in May virtually unchanged from April’s elevated levels. Looking ahead, expect surging prices and additional interest rate hikes to pose continued downside risks to consumer spending this year.”

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National new home sales metrics; April 2022

New Home Sales


Sales of new single‐family houses in April 2022 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 591,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.


This is 16.6 percent (±10.4 percent) below the revised March rate of 709,000 and is 26.9 percent (±13.7 percent) below the April 2021 estimate of 809,000.

Sales Price
The median sales price of new houses sold in April 2022 was $450,600. The average sales price was $570,300.


For Sale Inventory and Months’ Supply
The seasonally‐adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of April was 444,000. This represents a supply of 9.0 months at the current sales rate.

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Conference Board CEO confidence Index; 5/22

New York, NY, May 18, 2022…The Conference Board Measure of CEO Confidence™ in collaboration with The Business Council declined for the fourth consecutive quarter in Q2 2022. The measure now stands at 42, down from 57 in Q1. The Measure has fallen into negative territory and is at levels not seen since the onset of the pandemic. (A reading below 50 points reflects more negative than positive responses.)

The Q2 survey also asked CEOs to share their views on the Federal Reserve’s tightening policy. Notably, nearly 60 percent of CEOs expect inflation will come down over the next few years. But they also believe that the interest rate hikes that will tame inflation will cause a recession—albeit, a very brief, mild recession that the Fed offsets.

“CEO confidence weakened further in the second quarter, as executives contended with rising prices and supply chain challenges, which the war in Ukraine and renewed COVID restrictions in China exacerbated,” said Dana M. Peterson, Chief Economist of The Conference Board. “Expectations for future conditions were also bleak, with 60 percent of executives anticipating the economy will worsen over the next six months—a marked rise from the 23 percent who held that view last quarter.”

“Amid historically low unemployment and record job openings, nearly 70 percent of CEOs are combating a tight labor market by increasing wages across the board,” said Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., Vice Chairman of The Business Council and Trustee of The Conference Board. “On top of that, companies are grappling with higher input costs, which 54 percent of CEOs said they are passing along to their customers. This may contribute to cooling in consumer spending heading into the summer.”

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Conference Board commentary on BLS labor statistics report for 1Q/22

Commentary on today’s U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Report

By Agron Nicaj, Associate Economist, The Conference Board

Today’s jobs report showed further job gains in April, following months of solid growth in the first quarter of 2022. The labor market continues to expand, especially in in-person services and in other industries that have yet to fully recover job losses incurred since the pandemic. Severe labor shortages continue to drive up wages, adding additional pressure on inflation. The labor market remains strong while the Federal Reserve maintains its focus on stabilizing prices with increasing interest rates and a commitment to shrinking their asset portfolio.

Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 428,000 in April, after a slight downwardly revised increase of 428,000 in March. The labor force participation rate decreased slightly to 62.2 percent, compared to 62.4 percent in March, while the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.6 percent. Overall, employment is still down 0.8 percent compared to pre-pandemic (February 2020) levels, representing 1.2 million jobs. Job recovery has been slower for women, with employment still 1.1 percent below pre-pandemic levels, compared to 0.5 percent for men.

Job growth continued to be strong in leisure and hospitality, which added 78,000 jobs in April. Transportation and warehousing added 52,000 jobs and manufacturing added 55,000 jobs. Compared to February 2020, however, employment is still down 19.1 percent in accommodation and 6.4 percent in food services and drinking places, indicating that in-person services industries have room to see additional job gains in 2022.

Average hourly earnings rose 5.5 percent over the past 12 months, with an 11.0 percent increase in leisure and hospitality and a 7.1 percent increase in transportation and warehousing. Wages will continue to rise steadily, especially in industries most impacted by labor shortages.

Severe labor shortages continue to impact recruiting and retention, with the March quits rate matching last year’s historical high of 3 percent. Labor force participation rates are not expected to rise significantly in 2022, especially among older workers, and there will continue to be more jobs than workers to fill them. Lingering fears of COVID-19 infection, lack of childcare options, early retirements, and other issues are all preventing more workers from re-joining the labor force.

The unemployment rate is expected to get close to 3 percent by the end of the year, with labor shortages showing no signs of alleviating. We also continue to expect 2.1 million more payroll employment gains this year. Wage growth will likely continue to accelerate as a result, adding further pressure on inflation. 

About The Conference Board The Conference Board is the member-driven think tank that delivers trusted insights for what’s ahead. Founded in 1916, we are a non-partisan, not-for-profit entity holding 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt status in the United States.

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