August's anemic job growth has Wall Street in a quandary: Are the numbers a signal of structural job market weakness or just an aberration to be dismissed.
The answer is clearly "yes."
That's to say, both assertions are correct. The numbers do poke some holes in the idea of a robust employment picture, but they also probably don't represent the true jobs market snapshot.
For instance, low labor participation continues to play a part on the falling rate of 6.1 percent. Still, a decline in retail jobs helps explain some of the recent consumer weakness. Finally, the August nonfarm payrolls report is notoriously noisy and likely to be revised significantly in the months ahead.
A note from Ethan S. Harris, global economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, sums up much of the market reaction:
The report was clearly disappointing and contrasts with the otherwise strong economic data we have seen recently. We advise not overreacting given the volatility of nonfarm payrolls and possibility of an upward revision—August payroll growth has been revised up in 12 of the last 15 years by an average of 31,000. The economy is continuing to heal and we remain comfortable with our forecast of 3.0 percent growth for the remainder of the year.
The accompanying video helps sort out the takeaways and throwaways from the report.