What to Expect From the Jobs Report

Nelson D. Schwartz
Wall Street set for rocky ride ahead of jobs report

At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Labor Department will report the latest data on hiring and the unemployment rate in August.

Economists are looking for a gain of just under 220,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate is expected to decline by 0.1 percentage point, to 5.2 percent — the lowest since April 2008.

Here is what to watch for:

• Will it be enough to prompt the Fed to act?

Many watchers of the Federal Reserve had expected the central bank to begin its long-expected move to raise interest rates from near zero when officials next meet in two weeks. But the recent market volatility has made things much less certain. A strong number might tip the balance.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

• Wages, wages, wages

Although the big headlines will initially focus on the number of jobs added last month, the question of whether average hourly earnings are showing signs of life is also crucial. Despite the falling unemployment rate, and fairly robust hiring this year, wages have been stagnant.

Wall Street is looking for a 0.2 percentage point increase — a bigger jump than that might suggest the labor market is tightening and workers are finally seeing the benefits. It could also help convince Fed policy-makers that the economy is strong enough to withstand a rate increase.

• Trouble in August?

For seasonal factors, not fundamental economic ones, the Labor Department's August jobs report has often come in weaker than expected, at least initially.

Over the last five years, according to Goldman Sachs, the government has reported an average gain of 30,000 fewer jobs for the month than economists had expected. (These August figures were ultimately revised upward by an average of 79,000.)

In all other months, a gain of less than 200,000 jobs might be considered lackluster at best, weak at worst. But given August's history of big upward revisions, Fed officials and investors might be inclined to take a more forgiving view of the data this time around.