The Labor Department reported that there were 136,000 jobs added in September, below the consensus estimate of 145,000. For the nine months through September, the average monthly increase in total employment has been 161,000, below the average monthly gain of 223,000 in 2018 (note that this will likely be revised down based on the recent preliminary benchmark revision estimate). Health care added 39,000 jobs, in line with its average monthly gain over the past 12 months. Revisions added 45,000 to the prior two months. The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for July was revised up by 7,000 from 159,000 to 166,000 and the change for August was revised up by 38,000 from 130,000 to 168,000. Monthly revisions result from additional reports received from businesses and government agencies since the last published estimates and from the recalculation of seasonal factors.
The September jobs report is important to the Federal Reserve and analysts because it is the first major piece of data for the fourth quarter. While not entirely consistent, data through the third quarter suggest that both the global and national economies are slowing. Indeed, the U.S. manufacturing sector is weakening as evidenced by a contraction for the second consecutive month in September in U.S. factory activity to its lowest level since June 2009. Expectations for GDP growth in the fourth quarter have also slipped to less than 2%. Global trade is slowing, and business investment is weakening due to mounting concerns about trade-related weakness associated with rising tariffs and geopolitical strife around the world. In fact, the Fed lowered interest rates on July 31st for the first time since 2008 and then again at its September 18th FOMC meeting as it reacted preemptively to concerns of a potential economic slowdown. The fed funds rate is now targeted at a range of 1.75% to 2.00%, down 25 basis points from its prior target range. Until July and since late 2015, the Federal Reserve had been gradually raising rates following six years of virtually 0% interest rates (2009 through 2015).
The August unemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage points to 3.5%. The last time the rate was this low was 50 years ago in December 1969. A broader measure of unemployment, which includes those who are working part time but would prefer full-time jobs and those that they have given up searching—the U-6 unemployment rate—fell to 6.9% from 7.2%.
Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls fell in September by one cent to $28.09. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.9%, but this marked a 14-month low. For 2018, the year over year pace was 3.0% and in 2017 it was 2.6%.
The labor force participation rate, which is a measure of the share of working age people who are employed or looking for work was unchanged at 63.2% in September, very low but up from its cyclical low of 62.3% in 2015. The low rate at least partially reflecting the effects of an aging population.