The U.S. economy added 130,000 jobs in August. Analysts on Wall Street had been expecting a gain of 160,000 jobs, according to Bloomberg.

The unemployment rate was 3.7% and remains unchanged. That is close to a 50-year low and a reflection of how strong the labor market has been recently.

Average hourly earnings rose 0.4%, bringing the 12-month increase to 3.2%.

The takeaway

The economy turned in a decent performance last month as businesses grew more cautious about hiring, according to the Labor Department’s monthly employment report released Friday. About 25,000 of the jobs added were temporary positions for the 2020 census.

Along with consumer spending, the labor market has been a source of stability for the economy, even as several gauges have turned downward and anxieties over the trade war with China have mounted.

But in August, the private sector added 96,000 jobs, weaker than the pace so far in 2019, and an indication that businesses are becoming a little more reluctant to add head count. The report also revised down job gains for June and July by a total of 20,000.

Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said the headline number in August was “flattered” by the big increase in census hiring. “But even allowing for that, there has been a clear slowdown in trend employment growth, with the three-month and six-month averages both at around 150,000 now, down from about 230,000 a year ago,” he said.

Despite the middling headline number, there were positive signs elsewhere in the report. The labor force participation rate rose to 63.2%, from 63%, suggesting that workers who had been on the sidelines are gradually being lured back into the labor market. Average hourly earnings increased by 0.4%, which is more than analysts had expected. And the length of the average workweek increased after falling in July.

“Many of us are on tenterhooks waiting for this set of numbers,” said Carl R. Tannenbaum, chief economist for Northern Trust in Chicago. “Because of where we are in the business cycle, it’s taken on particular importance.”

Still, the August figures come amid increasing concern that the economy is faltering. The manufacturing sector has been showing signs of weakness, and businesses have been more reluctant to make big investments.

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