U.S. employers added 248,000 jobs in September, in a burst of hiring that helped drive down the unemployment rate to 5.9 percent — the lowest since July 2008. But away from the headline figure, stagnate wages and lower labor force participation complicated an overall rosy economic outlook.
The Labor Department report Friday, which also showed that employers added a combined 69,000 more jobs in July and August than the government had previously estimated, saw a 0.2 percent decline in the unemployment rate from 6.1 percent in August.
The lower rate, combined with the surge in hiring, could ratchet up pressure on the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates earlier than expected. Most economists have predicted that the Fed would start raising rates in mid-2015. But Fed chair Janet Yellen has said she is tracking many other gauges besides the unemployment rate, most of which still show scars from the Great Recession.
The job gains were broad-based and included many higher-paying industries. Professional and business services, a sector that includes engineers, accountants and architects, added 81,000 jobs — the most in seven months. Construction companies added 16,000 jobs, and manufacturing 4,000.
The second and third highest gaining industries — retail and leisure and hospitality — saw an additional 68,000 jobs, continuing their growth over the last few years. But while these industries have grown steadily, they also tend to be lower paying and have not seen an accompanying growth in wages. This may in part reflect the stagnating salaries in the wider economy.
The number of unemployed Americans fell in September by 329,000 to 9.3 million. Most of this is accounted for by new hires. But nearly 100,000 stopped looking for work, meaning they are not counted in the official unemployment rate. Their exodus lowered the percentage of Americans working or looking for work to 62.7 percent, the lowest proportion since February 1978.
The cause of the steadily declining rate is a point of contention among policymakers and economists. While it’s partially a demographic result of a growing number of baby-boomer retirees, many attribute the role of monetary and fiscal policy to further depressing the rate.
Moreover, while the jobs report showed a reduction in the unemployment rate, questions remain about the quality of jobs.
For example, there were 7.1 million people working in part-time jobs last month, even though they would prefer full-time work. That figure is up from just 4.6 million before the recession.
And there are 3 million people who have been out of work for more than six months. That figure has declined steadily in the past three years, but is still more than double its pre-recession total.
A broader measure of unemployment that includes part-time workers who would prefer full-time jobs, as well as those who have stopped searching, fell to 11.8 percent last month from 12 percent in August.
Just 287,000 people sought unemployment benefits last week, not far from a seven-year low reached in July. The number of people receiving benefits has reached an eight-year low, a sign that companies are confident enough in their customer demand to retain their staff levels.
Al Jazeera and the Associated Press