Companies kept adding to payrolls in August while measures of slack in the labor market were little changed, signaling steady hiring in the face of lackluster global growth.
Payrolls climbed by 151,000 last month following a 275,000 gain in July that was larger than previously estimated, a Labor Department report showed Friday in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for 180,000. The jobless rate and labor participation rate held steady, while wage gains moderated and hours worked were the lowest since 2014.
The August figure is consistent with a simmering-down of payrolls growth so far this year as the economy slogs through a period of weak investment and some companies have difficulty finding workers. Federal Reserve officials will have to weigh the jobs data as they decide whether to raise the benchmark interest rate for the first time in 2016.
“While it’s still a decent pace of job growth, I think the optics of it is not particularly compelling, to the extent that it reflects a sharp deceleration in the pace of labor-market momentum,” said Millan Mulraine, deputy head of U.S. research and strategy for TD Securities USA LLC in New York, who projected a 153,000 gain.
The 89 estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from gains of 92,000 to 255,000 after a previously reported 255,000 July increase. Revisions subtracted a net 1,000 jobs from overall payrolls in the previous two months, as June’s increase was cut to 271,000 from 292,000.
An August Pattern
The payrolls data were contending with a pattern of August disappointment, with the survey median overshooting the first print for the month in each of the last five years, by an average 47,000. Low response rates in a popular vacation month and difficulty adjusting for seasonal effects at the start of the school year could be to blame.
The unemployment rate, which is derived from a separate Labor Department survey of households, was 4.9% for a third month, as the labor force increased, with a little more than half of those entering finding work. The participation rate, which indicates the share of working-age people who are employed or looking for work, was also unchanged at 62.8%.
The government’s underemployment rate held at 9.7%, as the number of people working part-time for economic reasons rose slightly, according to Friday’s report. Some 6.05 million American employees were in part-time jobs but wanted full-time work, up from 5.94 million in the prior month.
Average hourly earnings rose 0.1% from a month earlier to $25.73, following a 0.3% increase in the prior month. The year-over-year increase was 2.4%, compared with 2.7% in the 12 months through July.
The average work week for all workers decreased by 6 minutes to 34.3 hours in July, the lowest since 2014 and the first drop in six months.
Factories cut payrolls by 14,000, the most in three months. Employment at construction companies fell for the fourth time in the last five months.
Several manufacturing organizations quickly responded to the latest jobs report, using it as a launching pad to weigh in on other issues as well, including the Alliance for American Manufacturing.
"This month brings more manufacturing jobs losses, including in the automotive sector, where sales are declining," said AAM President Scott Paul in a statement. "That’s been a recent bright spot for U.S. manufacturing, and its slump really highlights the global headwinds America is facing."
“We’ve got a persistent China trade problem, and it’s going to be hard to create manufacturing jobs while China’s chronic industrial overcapacity is crushing steel and other sectors," he added. “I join the Congressional Steel Caucus in encouraging President Obama to raise the overcapacity issue during the G20 summit. Over 19,000 U.S. steelworkers are facing layoffs and that isn’t going to change without action on this issue."
Analysts Expect Increased Momentum
Employment slowed at private service providers, with payrolls in professional and business services posting the smallest gain since a decrease in January. Retail jobs rose by 15,100.
Analysts see the economy regaining momentum after a weak first half of 2016. Gross domestic product climbed at a 1.1% annualized rate in the three months ended in June. Economists see growth picking up to 2.7 percent in the third quarter, according to Bloomberg survey estimates.
A sustained slowdown in hiring would raise questions about America’s consumer-driven expansion as the Fed debates whether to raise interest rates as soon as this month, or to wait until later this year. Chair Janet Yellen said last week that the case for rate hikes “has strengthened in recent months.”
By Michelle Jamrisko; IndustryWeek contributed to this report