Happy new year, everybody, and with 2018 now officially upon us, I’ve (predictably) seen a ton of articles and news stories coming out reporting on the state of the marketplace and discussing the overall health of the economy — as well as offering predictions for the rest of the year to come.

In observing these reports, however, I find that many of them fail to make a distinction that’s vitally important to the fortunes of the average professional today.  The discrepancy in question?  It’s that the “economy” and the “job market” are actually two separate things, at the end of the day, and strong growth in one of these variables doesn’t always correlate perfectly to a similar uptick in the other.

For example, I don’t think there’s any question that the economy itself — largely measured by data involving the stock market index, gross national product, and the like — is in pretty darn good shape these days.  If you’re like most people, you’ve seen your retirement accounts and investments climb back into the black after the pounding they took about a decade ago.  You’ve also probably noticed the general optimism shown by investors, entrepreneurs, and other folks about the future — which, right or wrong, is likely to be amplified in the short term once the new corporate tax cuts end up coming into force.  Not being a trained economist, myself, I’d steer you to reports like the ones here, here, and here that paint a pretty rosy picture of economic growth for the coming year.  In one of these reports, issued by Goldman Sachs, the article’s “Global Economic Outlook 2018: As Good As It Gets” headline alone gives you an instant sense of their bullishness about the future.

And yet, while the enthusiasm that’s suffusing all of the financial markets is definitely a good thing, let’s not overlook the fact that a number of key job market indicators aren’t quite keeping pace:

• The 2.11 million jobs added to the U.S. economy in 2017 represent the smallest gain in job growth since 2011
• The U.S. “labor force participation” rate (% of people working) is down to 62.7% compared to >66% a decade earlier
• The Dept. of Labor says “underemployment” (the # of workers not able to find full-time work) rose to 8% from 7.9% in 2017
• The number of “discouraged workers” (folks who want to work, but who have given up searching) remained unchanged over the year

Along these same lines, and from an anecdotal standpoint, I continue to routinely receive e-mails from individual job hunters who are struggling out there — stating that the overall economic gains haven’t yet translated into an appropriate job opportunity on their end.  They use words like “confused” and “exasperated” and “desperate” to describe their job search journey in recent months and it’s likely their self-confidence issues are heightened, not lessened, by the contrast between the reality they’re experiencing and the continued barrage of glowing job reports being distributed in the media.  Additionally, there continues to be great anxiety out there over the impact of age discrimination and how much it might affect the job prospects of professionals in the 40+ age range — as well as the future impact of trends such as job automation, outsourcing, and other variables.

Despite a few of these concerning statistics and anecdotes, however, there’s no question that most of the standard measures of job market growth (e.g. unemployment rate, wage growth, etc.) fared pretty well over the past year. So even those inclined to be cynical about the current state of affairs would find it hard to argue, statistically, that things aren’t trending in a positive direction with projected further growth anticipated for the year to come.  The numbers are pretty telling.  And while I’m sure we could have a lively debate about the reasons WHY the job market is doing so well (current administration? past administration? luck? divine intervention?) I’ll save those discussions — which I’m sure would be both scintillating and passionate — for a different post.

Long story short, I’m excited to report that even a skeptic like myself continues to see sunny skies ahead for the state of the job market in 2018.  And while I’d never suggest somebody ever take the job search process for granted, or assume that “macro” economic trends always translate flawlessly down to the “micro” level, on the whole I anticipate it’s going to be a pretty good year for those folks looking for new opportunities.  Here’s to many exciting career developments for those of you out there currently seeking them…