Wed | Dec 7, 2022

Slower US job gain in August could aid Fed’s inflation fight

Published:Friday | September 2, 2022 | 9:06 AM
Hiring sign is displayed at a restaurant in Highland Park, Ill., Thursday, July 14, 2022. Fewer Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week as the labor market continues to shine despite weakening elements of the U.S. economy. Applications for jobless aid for the week ending Aug. 27, fell by 5,000 to 232,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday, Sept. 1. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — America's employers slowed their hiring in August in the face of rising interest rates, high inflation and sluggish consumer spending but still added 315,000 jobs.

The government reported Friday that last month's job gain was down from 526,000 in July and below the average gain of the previous three months. The unemployment rate rose to 3.7%, from a half-century low of 3.5% in July, as more Americans came off the sidelines to look for jobs.

Even though the job gain declined from July, the report still pointed to a resilient labor market and an economy that is not near recession. The number of people looking for work jumped last month, which boosted the unemployment rate because not all of them found jobs immediately. The influx of job seekers may help employers fill a near-record number of openings in the coming months.

The smaller August gain will likely be welcomed by the Federal Reserve. The Fed is rapidly raising interest rates to try to cool hiring and wage growth, which have been consistently strong. Businesses typically pass the cost of higher wages on to their customers through higher prices, thereby fueling inflation.

Fed officials hope that by raising borrowing costs across the economy, they can reduce inflation from a near-40-year high. Some economists fear, though, that the Fed is tightening credit so aggressively that it will eventually tip the economy into recession.

Average hourly pay rose 10 cents to $32.36 in August, an increase of 5.2% from a year ago. That is still higher than Fed officials want to see. Some have said they would prefer for wages to be rising at a pace closer to 3% to help rein in rising prices.

Most industries added workers last month, with the biggest increases in professional and business services, which gained 68,000 jobs. That sector includes architects, engineers and some tech workers. Health care added 61,500 jobs, retailers 44,000.

Job openings remain high and the pace of layoffs low, indicating that most businesses still want to hire. The broadest measure of the economy's output — gross domestic product — has shrunk for two straight quarters, meeting one informal definition of a recession. Yet another measure, focused on incomes, indicates the economy expanded in the first half of the year, albeit slowly.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell, in a high-profile speech last week, made clear that to curb inflation, the Fed was prepared to continue raising short-term interest rates for the foreseeable future and to keep them elevated. Powell warned that the Fed's inflation fight would likely cause pain for Americans in the form of a weaker economy and job losses.

So far, the Fed's rate hikes have severely dented the housing market. With the average rate on a 30-year mortgage reaching 5.66% last week — double the level of a year ago — sales of existing homes have fallen for six straight months.

Consumers have moderated their spending in the face of much higher prices, though they spent more in July even after adjusting for inflation. But companies' investment in new equipment has slowed, indicating they have an increasingly cautious outlook on the economy.

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