WASHINGTON: The US economy created the fewest jobs in seven months in August as hiring in the leisure and hospitality sector stalled amid a resurgence in COVID-19 infections, which weighed on demand at restaurants and other food places.
But other details of the Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday were fairly strong, with the unemployment rate falling to a 17-month low of 5.2% and July job growth revised sharply higher. Wages increased a solid 0.6% and fewer people were experiencing long spells unemployment.
This points to underlying strength in the economy even as growth appears to be slowing in the third quarter because of the soaring infections, driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, and relentless shortages of raw materials, which are depressing automobile sales and restocking.
Nonfarm payrolls increased by 235,000 jobs last month, the smallest gain since January. Data for July was revised up to show a whopping 1.053 million jobs created instead of the previously reported 943,000.
That left the level of employment about 5.3 million jobs below its peak in February 2020. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast nonfarm payrolls increasing by 728,000 jobs.
The initial August payrolls print has undershot expectations and been slower than the three-month average job growth through July over the last several years, including in 2020. August payrolls have been subsequently revised higher in 11 of the last 12 years. Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector was unchanged as restaurants and bars payrolls fell 42,000, offsetting a 36,000 gain in arts, entertainment and recreation jobs. Retailers shed 29,000 jobs.
There were gains in professional and business services, transportation and warehousing, as well as manufacturing, which added 37,000 jobs. Factory hiring remains constrained by input shortages, especially semiconductors, which have depressed motor vehicle production and sales.
Raw material shortages have also made it harder for businesses to replenish inventories. Motor vehicle sales tumbled 10.7% in August, prompting economists at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan to slash third-quarter GDP growth estimates to as low as a 3.5% annualized rate from as high as 8.25%.
Government payrolls fell in August as state government education lost 21,000 jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles the employment report cautioned that “recent employment changes are challenging to interpret, as pandemic-related staffing fluctuations in public and private education have distorted the normal seasonal hiring and layoff patterns.”
U.S. stocks opened lower. The dollar slipped against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices fell.
HOUSEHOLD DETAILS STRONG
Details of the smaller household survey from which the unemployment rate is derived were fairly upbeat.
The unemployment rate fell to 5.2%, the lowest since March 2020 from 5.4% in July. It has, however, been understated by people misclassifying themselves as being “employed but absent from work.”