WASHINGTON – The U.S. government on Friday released a report on employment that showed weaker-than-expected hiring and a drop in the jobless rate as many Americans gave up the hunt for work.
The dense monthly report included hundreds of readings on employment that offered a nuanced picture of labor market conditions.
Here are three things we learned from them:
JOB HUNTS ARE GETTING PUT OFF
The number of jobless Americans who gave up the hunt for work after searching a month earlier climbed to 2.66 million in August, the third straight monthly increase. The reading has barely declined over the last three years. This has raised concerns because it suggests some of the decrease in the jobless rate in recent years is because some Americans are becoming permanently unemployed. Some might be older unemployed workers entering into a forced early retirement, but other measures in Friday's report pointed to more broad-based discouragement. The share of Americans aged 25 to 54 who had jobs or were looking for work dipped to 81 percent in August, the lowest level since 1984, a time when fewer women were in the workforce. In another worrisome sign, the share of these prime-age workers who actually had jobs has stagnated at around 76 percent since early last year, well below its 2003-2007 average of around 79 percent.
RISING INTEREST RATES COULD BE HITTING CONSTRUCTION JOBS
Employment in construction has only risen in one month of the last five, and August was not one of them. Employment in the industry was flat last month, and this could stoke concerns that a sharp increase in mortgage rates since May could be dealing a blow to the nation's recovering but still depressed housing market.
WORKERS ARE PUTTING IN MORE HOURS
Despite a still-elevated jobless rate, slow-but-steady gains in employment and rising demand have raised the nation's overall work effort - almost to where it was before the recession began in December 2007. The Labor Department's index of total hours worked per week rose to 98.8 last month. It was around 100 on the eve of the recession and dipped as low as 90.7 in 2010. This is probably part of the reason the Federal Reserve is signaling it will soon reduce its stimulus efforts. More hours worked coupled with rising wages could eventually push inflation higher. In August, average hourly earnings were up a respectable five cents to $24.05.
(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Andrea Ricci)