The September employment report showed the first U.S. payroll decline in seven years as employers shed 33,000 jobs.
But economists are writing off the weak performance as a blip caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which devastated the Houston area and Florida in late August and early September.
Fortunately, the report highlighted other signs of a healthy labor market:
• The unemployment rate fell from 4.4% to 4.2%, the lowest level since February 2001. That rate is calculated from a different survey than the headline jobs total and revealed a big surge in employment. In that survey of households, people are counted as employed even if they missed work because of the storms.
• Average hourly earnings rose 12 cents to $26.55, bumping the annual gain to 2.9% from 2.5%. Much of the rise can be traced to the hurricanes, which prompted many lower-paid part-time and temporary workers to stay home, lifting average pay, says economist Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics. But at least part of the rise wasn’t caused by the storms, says economist Jim O’Sullivan of High Frequency Economics.
• A broader measure of unemployment fell. The measure includes discouraged Americans who have stopped looking for work and part-time employees who prefer full-time jobs, as well as the unemployed. It fell from 8.6% to 8.3%, the lowest since June 2007.
• Share of Americans working or looking for jobs rose from 62.9% to 63.1%, the highest since March 2014. That measure generally has trended down as Baby Boomers retire but it has edged higher the past two years as the improving labor market coaxes discouraged workers to look for jobs. That’s a positive development for an economy that has sidelined millions of workers since the recession of 2007-2009.
• Bars lost but other industries gained. Most of the month’s losses were traced to restaurants and bars, which shed 105,000 jobs. That industry is especially vulnerable to hurricanes, which kept both employees and customers from venturing out. Most other areas added jobs, though in some cases at a slower pace.
New data from CareerBuilder.com suggests low-wage jobs will grow faster than ‘middle-wage’ and ‘high-wage’ jobs over the next five years. Wochit