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Payrolls increase 156,000 in August as job creation cools

  • The U.S. economy created 156,000 jobs in August while the unemployment rate moved to 4.4 percent.
  • Economists surveyed by Reuters had been expecting payrolls to grow by 180,000 in August.

The U.S. economy created 156,000 jobs in August while the unemployment rate edged higher to 4.4 percent, according to a closely watched government report Friday.

Economists surveyed by Reuters had been expecting payrolls to grow by 180,000 in August and the unemployment rate to hold steady at 4.3 percent. A broader measure that includes discouraged workers and those holding part-time jobs for economic reasons also was unchanged at 8.6 percent.

Despite the miss on the headline number, markets reacted little to the news as stocks appeared headed for a higher open and government bond yields and the U.S. dollar edged lower.

"This report is all noise and no signal," said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM. "I'm going to advise our clients to ignore the top-line number and focus on the long-term trend. ... We're still adding roughly twice as many jobs as we need to keep the unemployment rate stable. This labor market is tight as a drum."

In addition to missing estimates, previous months' job totals also were cut. June was revised down from 231,000 to 210,000 while July fell from the initially reported 209,000 to 189,000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

Wage growth also was weak for the month, with average hourly earnings up 0.1 percent for an annualized rate of 2.5 percent. The average work week declined by 0.1 hour to 34.4 hours.

From a sector standpoint, manufacturing added 36,000 and construction gained 28,000 while mining contributed 7,000. Professional and technical services grew by 22,000 and health care rose 20,000.

The ranks of the unemployed rose by 151,000 to 7.13 million, while the employment level fell 74,000 to 153.4 million. Also, those counted as not in the labor force rose 128,000 to 94.8 million.

August payroll numbers historically have been the most volatile due to seasonal distortions, often coming in weak at first reading only to be revised higher. In 2011, the initial reading came in at zero, but later was revised up to 104,000. In 2016, the first report showed 151,000, while the final number moved up to 176,000.

This month's report comes at a crucial time for the economy.

Growth lately has been showing signs of accelerating, with second-quarter gross domestic product growth revised this week up to 3 percent and expectations for more of the same in the third quarter.

The Federal Reserve has been watching the numbers closely as well. The Fed has indicated plans to raise its benchmark interest rate target another quarter-point this year, but could be held back due to weak inflation. Specifically, policymakers have been looking for signs of accelerated wage growth, which has been stuck around 2.5 percent for most of the year.

Following the jobs report, traders still doubted where the Fed would move before the end of the year, giving a December hike just a 37 percent chance.

Correction: An earlier version contained incorrect information on the payrolls and unemployment rate numbers.