Job Growth Stumbles, Raising Doubts on Economy

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US Created 142K Jobs in Sept.

By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON -- U.S. employers slammed the brakes on hiring over the last two months, raising new doubts the economy is strong enough for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates by the end of this year.

Payrolls outside of farming rose by 142,000 last month and August figures were revised sharply lower to show only 136,000 jobs added that month, the Labor Department said Friday.

That marked the smallest two-month gain in employment in over a year and could fuel fears that the China-led global economic slowdown is sapping America's strength.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-You can't throw lipstick on this pig of a report.%"You can't throw lipstick on this pig of a report," said Brian Jacobsen, a portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

The weak job growth took Wall Street by surprise and U.S. stocks sold off while the dollar also weakened and yields for government bonds fell.

Bets on interest rate futures showed investors only saw a 30 percent chance of a Fed rate hike in December, down from just under 50 percent before the job report's release.

"[With) a weak report here, in combination with some of the other weakness that we are seeing across the globe, the odds get dinged for December," said Tom Porcelli, an economist at RBC Capital Markets.

Investors saw virtually no chance the Fed would end its near-zero interest rate policy at its only other scheduled meeting this year, to be held later in October. Futures prices indicated investors were betting the Fed would probably hike in March.

U.S. factories are feeling the global chill and shed 9,000 jobs in September after losing 18,000 in August, according to the Labor Department's survey of employers.

"We saw events in China lead to some global financial turmoil and you're seeing that in the data here," White House chief economist Jason Furman told Reuters.

New orders received by U.S. factories fell 1.7 percent in August, the Commerce Department said in a separate report.

Paul Ryan, a top Republican lawmaker in the House of Representatives, said the weak turn in the economy should be a wake-up call for Washington to reform the national economy with new tax laws, free trade agreements and policies to get people off welfare.

"This recovery continues to disappoint, but we can't accept it as the new normal," Ryan said.

The recent pace of job growth should have been enough to push the unemployment rate lower because only around 100,000 new jobs are needed a month to keep up with population growth.

But the jobless rate held steady at 5.1 percent. The unemployment rate is derived from a separate survey of households that showed 350,000 workers dropping out of the labor force last month, as well as a lower level of employment.

The share of the population in the work force, which includes people who have jobs or are looking for one, fell to 62.4 percent, the lowest level since 1977.

Average hourly wages fell by a cent to $25.09 during the month and were up only 2.2 percent from the same month in 2014, holding around the same levels seen all year and pointing to marginal inflationary pressures.

Bright Spots

The report did have a few bright spots that might be welcomed by Fed chief Janet Yellen, who said last week the economy was doing well enough to warrant higher rates this year.

The number of workers with part-time jobs but who want more hours fell by 447,000 in September to 6.0 million.

Yellen has signaled that the elevated number of these workers points to hidden slack in the labor market that isn't captured by the jobless rate. A measure of joblessness that includes these workers and is closely followed by the Fed fell to 10 percent, its lowest level since May 2008.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected job growth of 203,000 in September.

All told, revised estimates meant 59,000 fewer jobs were created in July and August than previously believed.

In another grim sign, the number of hours worked in the country fell 0.2 percent, raising the specter that some broader softness might have gripped the economy last month.

Some of the strongest headwinds on the U.S. economy come from the commodity sector, which has slowed in part because of weaker demand from China.

The price of oil has fallen nearly 50 percent over the last year, and U.S. mining payrolls, which include energy sector jobs, fell by 10,000 in September, the ninth straight month of declines.

-Rodrigo Campos and Karen Brettell contributed reporting from New York.

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9 Numbers That'll Tell You How the Economy's Really Doing
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Job Growth Stumbles, Raising Doubts on Economy
The gross domestic product measures the level of economic activity within a country. To figure the number, the Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the total consumption of goods and services by private individuals and businesses; the total investment in capital for producing goods and services; the total amount spent and consumed by federal, state, and local government entities; and total net exports. It's important, because it serves as the primary gauge of whether the economy is growing or not. Most economists define a recession as two or more consecutive quarters of shrinking GDP.
The CPI measures current price levels for the goods and services that Americans buy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects price data on a basket of different items, ranging from necessities like food, clothing and housing to more discretionary expenses like eating out and entertainment. The resulting figure is then compared to those of previous months to determine the inflation rate, which is used in a variety of ways, including cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other government benefits.
The unemployment rate measures the percentage of workers within the total labor force who don't have a job, but who have looked for work in the past four weeks, and who are available to work. Those temporarily laid off from their jobs are also included as unemployed. Yet as critical as the figure is as a measure of how many people are out of work and therefore suffering financial hardship from a lack of a paycheck, one key item to note about the unemployment rate is that the number does not reflect workers who have stopped looking for work entirely. It's therefore important to look beyond the headline numbers to see whether the overall workforce is growing or shrinking.
The trade deficit measures the difference between the value of a nation's imported and exported goods. When exports exceed imports, a country runs a trade surplus. But in the U.S., imports have exceeded exports consistently for decades. The figure is important as a measure of U.S. competitiveness in the global market, as well as the nation's dependence on foreign countries.
Each month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis measures changes in the total amount of income that the U.S. population earns, as well as the total amount they spend on goods and services. But there's a reason we've combined them on one slide: In addition to being useful statistics separately for gauging Americans' earning power and spending activity, looking at those numbers in combination gives you a sense of how much people are saving for their future.
Consumers play a vital role in powering the overall economy, and so measures of how confident they are about the economy's prospects are important in predicting its future health. The Conference Board does a survey asking consumers to give their assessment of both current and future economic conditions, with questions about business and employment conditions as well as expected future family income.
The health of the housing market is closely tied to the overall direction of the broader economy. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, named for economists Karl Case and Robert Shiller, provides a way to measure home prices, allowing comparisons not just across time but also among different markets in cities and regions of the nation. The number is important not just to home builders and home buyers, but to the millions of people with jobs related to housing and construction.
Most economic data provides a backward-looking view of what has already happened to the economy. But the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index attempts to gauge the future. To do so, the index looks at data on employment, manufacturing, home construction, consumer sentiment, and the stock and bond markets to put together a complete picture of expected economic conditions ahead.
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