By Danielle Paquette, The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Job growth lagged in August, with the economy adding a lower-than-projected 156,000 positions and the unemployment rate ticking up slightly to 4.4 percent.
Average hourly wages rose 3 cents last month to $26.39, up 2.5 percent from a year ago — a raise economists call tepid and government officials say “has room for improvement.”
The growth missed expectations, as analysts thought federal economists would report approximately 200,000 new jobs in August.
“Growth was slower in August, but that’s because there were fewer gains in growing industries, not because we’re seeing more losses in shrinking industries,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed.com. “We’re actually at a point of unusual stability.”
While the unemployment rate crept up from a 16-year-low, the increase is still within the margin of error.
The August report does not include impacts from Hurricane Harvey and the devastation it unleashed in Texas, as the collection of the data used for the report was completed before the storm struck.
Employees also worked a bit less in August, with the average workweek falling .3 percent to 34.4 hours.
Last month marked a slowdown in hiring and another period of tepid wage growth, but overall the economy continues down a healthy path of steady if unspectacular improvement.
Data show the manufacturing, construction, healthcare and mining industries all grew, while employment dipped in government and information technology.
Manufacturing swelled by 36,000 positions, with most of the growth coming from auto part production, fabricated metal products and computer gear. The sector has generated 155,000 jobs since last November.
Construction employment jumped by 28,000 in August after budging little over the last five months. Work for residential contractors drove the growth, climbing by 12,000 jobs.
Opportunities in healthcare continued to proliferate: August brought 20,000 more jobs in one of the country’s fastest-growing fields.
Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC, said August’s relatively modest progress reflects no sign of serious trouble ahead. The labor marketis tightening, which often makes it harder for employers to fill vacant positions.
“Businesses are seeing stronger demand, and they need more workers to keep up with that,” he said. “We’re putting up more houses. We’re manufacturing more things. Consumers are buying more goods and services.”
The biggest disappointment, he said, is workers still aren’t enjoying a significant pay raise. “You’d think with businesses saying ‘we can’t hire, we can’t hire’ they’d be raising wages, but they seem reluctant to do so,” Faucher said.
Some of that is probably overhang from the recession. Then there’s the younger, cheaper workers who are replacing retiring baby boomers.
Still, signs of improvement have characterized this summer: The stock markets have soared to record highs, and about a month ago, the country reached a recovery milestone, regaining the same employment level it had before the recession, accounting for changes in population. (The nation regained its pre-downturn number of jobs in April 2014.)
Federal economists have revised down their estimate of how many jobs were created in July and June by a combined total of 41,000. They now estimate 189,000 jobs were created in July and 210,000 jobs were created in June.
Following the report’s release Friday, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said the numbers revealed “continued economic strength and optimism” in the United States.
“The breadth of job gains across manufacturing sub-industries is at a 20-year high,” he wrote. “These family-sustaining jobs are the foundation of the American Dream.”
He added: “Nominal wage growth is steady, yet real wage growth has room for improvement.”
The employment upswing of early summer follows eight years of economic expansion, the third-longest stretch in history. At least 70 counties in the country have unemployment rates below 2 percent.
Since Trump took office in January, the economy has added 1,189,000 jobs, a pace the president has called “excellent.” That’s about 170,000 net job gains a month, a tick slower than the 187,000 a month average last year under President Barack Obama.