U.S. payrolls rise 201K while wage gains accelerate to 2.9%

UNITED STATES nonfarm payrolls rose 201,000 in August. / BLOOMBERG NEWS FILE PHOTO/ LUKE SHARRETT
UNITED STATES nonfarm payrolls rose 201,000 in August. / BLOOMBERG NEWS FILE PHOTO/ LUKE SHARRETT

NEW YORK – United States job gains rebounded by more than forecast in August and wages unexpectedly registered their biggest advance of the expansion, keeping the Federal Reserve on track to lift interest rates this month and possibly another time this year.

Nonfarm payrolls rose 201,000 after a downwardly revised 147,000 advance, a Labor Department report showed Friday. The median estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg called for a gain of 190,000 jobs. Average hourly earnings increased 2.9 percent from a year earlier while the jobless rate was unchanged at 3.9 percent, still near the lowest since the 1960s.

Robust hiring and lower taxes have boosted consumer spending and kept the job market near full employment, giving the Fed the go- ahead on raising rates this month. While investors have seen fewer hikes than policy makers are expecting through the end of 2019 – amid an escalating trade war, turmoil in emerging markets and the risk of a yield-curve inversion – the latest wage figures could narrow the gap in the outlook between the Fed and markets.

“The labor market is still super tight,” Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, said before the report.

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Here are the highlights of the three most closely-watched components of the report: payrolls, wages and unemployment.

Payrolls

Revisions subtracted a total of 50,000 jobs from payrolls in the previous two months, according to the figures, resulting in a three-month average of 185,000.

The details across industries showed manufacturing payrolls fell by 3,000 in August, breaking an almost yearlong streak of solid gains and missing the median estimate for a 23,000 increase. Construction added 23,000 jobs.

Service providers increased payrolls by 178,000 workers, a three-month high. Gains were led by education and health services at 53,000 jobs, professional and business services with 53,000 and wholesale trade at 22,400.

Government payrolls decreased by 3,000. Private employment rose by 204,000, compared with a median estimate of 194,000.

The payroll gain ends a seven-year streak where the first reading for August has been below the median analyst estimate. The August figure has been revised upward in six of the past seven years.

Wages

Average hourly earnings rose 0.4 percent from the prior month following a 0.3 percent gain, the report showed. The annual gain followed a 2.7 percent advance in July.

A separate measure, average hourly earnings for production and non-supervisory workers, increased 2.8 percent from a year earlier, after a 2.7 percent gain.

The average work week for all private employees was unchanged at 34.5 hours in August.

The lackluster pace of wage gains ahead of the latest data has become a contentious issue for Republicans and Democrats heading into midterm congressional elections in November. The White House issued a report Wednesday arguing that compensation looks better when accounting for factors such as employment benefits, retiring baby boomers and this year’s tax cuts.

Unemployment

The jobless rate remains well below Fed estimates of levels sustainable in the long run. The latest figure reflects a decrease of 46,000 unemployed people in August and a 423,000 drop in the number of people with jobs.

That lowered the participation rate, or share of working-age people in the labor force, to 62.7 percent from 62.9 percent the prior month. The employment-population ratio, another broad measure of labor-market health that central bankers like to watch, fell to 60.3 percent from 60.5 percent.

Another measure showed diminishing labor-market slack. The U-6, or underemployment rate, fell to 7.4 percent from 7.5 percent. That gauge includes part-time workers who’d prefer a full-time position and people who want a job but aren’t actively looking.

Shobhana Chandra is a reporter for Bloomberg News.