U.S. Jobs Market Remains Weak; Manufacturing Productivity Growth Revised Down

By John S. McClenahen As economic evidence mounts that U.S. recovery from the 2001 recession is picking up pace, the major issue is jobs. Specifically, the labor market remains weak. The U.S. Labor Department certainly didn't offer encouraging news on Sept. 4. It reported that initial claims for unemployment insurance rose to 413,000 last week, up 15,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 398,000 and way above the 394,000 mark that many economists were expecting for the week ending Aug. 30. "The report suggests that the downward trend in claims has petered out and that hiring remains on shaky grounds," says Maury Harris, chief U.S. economist at UBS Investment Research, New York. Meanwhile, the U.S. Labor Department has revised upward the second-quarter productivity growth figure it had previously reported for the nonfarm business sector of the U.S. economy. From April through June, productivity grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.8%, more than a full percentage point higher than the 5.7% reported on Aug. 7. The primary difference: an upward revision in worker output. However, the Labor Department did revise downward productivity growth in manufacturing. The department now figures that manufacturing productivity grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.7% during this year's second quarter, compared to the 4.2% it previously reported. A larger decline in output and a smaller decline in hours than first calculated were responsible for the change. In July, new orders for manufactured goods increased 1.6% from June to $329.4 billion, the U.S. Commerce Department reports. In percentage terms, that's twice the 0.8% economists generally were expecting. During July, new orders for durable goods, those designed to last three years or more, increased 1% to $173.9 billion. New orders for nondurables increased 2.4% to $155.4 billion. From January through July this year, new orders for manufactured goods ran 2.1% above the first seven months of 2002.

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