WASHINGTON - The nation's unemployment rate crept up to 4.9 percent in August as new jobs were created at the slowest pace in nearly a year, in part reflecting the impact of the United Parcel Service strike.
The increase in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, from a near 24-year low of 4.8 percent in July, wasn't statistically very significant, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Katharine G. Abraham. The rate has fluctuated between 4.8 percent and 5 percent since April.
But the UPS strike had a big impact on job growth. It temporarily subtracted 185,000 jobs from the economy, although the U.S. Postal Service and other competitors increased hiring by 32,000 to pick up some of the slack. The return of striking auto and steel workers added 10,000 jobs.
The crosscurrents left net job growth at a paltry 49,000 in August, the worst showing since September 1996. However, that followed an extremely strong gain of 365,000 jobs in July, revised up from an earlier estimate of 316,000 and the biggest gain in 17 months.
And analysts say employment is bouncing back from the strike, which ended in late August.
"August is just a statistical pause. The economy is still generating jobs at a healthy clip," said economist Mark Zandi of Regional Financial Associates in West Chester, Pa. "For workers, this is still the best of times. ... It's a good time to be looking for a job."
Wall Street, where stock prices have taken a roller-coaster ride in recent months, is closely watching labor market data for signs of worker shortages, which economists fear will increase wage pressures, leading to an acceleration in consumer prices.
Stock and bond prices rallied just after the report but then sank back. Late in the morning, the Dow Jones average of industrial stocks was up only 3 points to 7,870. The yield on the benchmark 30-year Treasury bond was 6.64 percent, up from 6.60 percent.
Average hourly earnings of non-supervisory workers jumped 5 cents last month to a seasonally adjusted $12.29, compared with a 1-cent increase in July. Average earnings are up 3.6 percent over the past year, more than double the inflation rate of about 1.5 percent.
The average workweek rose 0.2 hours in August, to 34.7 hours, after a 0.1-hour decline the month before.
The overall poor showing in job creation in August masked a stellar performance in manufacturing, which added 47,000 jobs, the most since February 1990. Companies making industrial machinery, computers, electronic components and aircraft all added to payrolls.
Job growth in retailing, 31,000, slowed after two strong months. The finance industry continued to add workers, 11,000 in August, bringing growth over the past 26 months to nearly 200,000. Construction employment rose by 10,000 jobs, the first gain since May.
Government jobs increased by 72,000, bolstered by 5,000 postal service hires and 49,000 teachers returning to school.
Among demographic groups, unemployment in August was 4.1 percent for men, up from 4 percent; 4.4 percent for women, up from 4.2 percent; 16.4 percent for teen-agers, the same as July; 4.2 percent for whites, matching the previous month; 9.3 percent for blacks, down from 9.4 percent, and 7.2 percent for Hispanics, down from 7.9 percent.
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