WASHINGTON — A better-than-expected employment report from the government Friday eased concerns about an imminent recession, but financial turmoil in Europe continues to roil global markets and remains a threat to the sluggish U.S. economic recovery.
U.S. stock markets proved volatile again Friday, a day after stock prices plunged roughly 5 percent. The Labor Department report that nonfarm payrolls rose by 117,000 jobs in July and the jobless rate ticked down slightly to 9.1 percent sent the Dow Jones industrial average climbing 170 points in the first minutes of trading.
That rise was short-lived as the index went lower, largely on fears of the impact of Europe's financial crisis. But prices then turned higher as a possible solution to the crisis was announced. In the end, the Dow closed up 60.93 points to 11,444.61, an anticlimax to a day that had seen the index fluctuate more than 400 points.
The S&P 500 was down by 0.69 of a point to 1,199.38, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq finished down 23.98 points to 2,532.41.
The market volatility after the jobs report indicated that Europe's debt problems may be weighing more heavily on investors than concerns about the U.S. economy and whether it might be falling back into a recession.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics' jobs numbers were hardly stellar, they felt great to many after two consecutive dismal jobs reports and a spate of recent weak economic indicators.
Mark Zandi, the chief economist for forecaster Moody's Analytics, said the jobs report "suggests that the economy will skirt recession," though it remained to be seen whether it would offer relief to wary investors.
"The better job number was critical to quell the turmoil in financial markets and shore up flagging confidence," he said.
The brightest spot in the government report was private-sector hiring. It came in at 154,000 jobs in July. But 37,000 lost government jobs, almost all of them at the state and local levels, dragged down the overall hiring number. Health care, retail sales and manufacturing showed healthy hiring during July, respectively adding 31,300, 25,900 and 24,000 jobs. The growth in manufacturing employment was a relief because a key gauge of manufacturing activity released Monday had shown near-recession levels.
The BLS also revised upward its previous estimates for employment in May and June. June had come in at a horrible 18,000 new jobs. That was revised Friday to 46,000. Similarly, May's numbers had been revised down last month to a weak 25,000 new jobs, but on Friday, based on new incoming data, that number was placed at 53,000.
More important were revisions to private-sector hiring, which now is thought to have added 99,000 jobs in May and 80,000 in June. Government layoffs dragged down the jobs reports again for both those months.
Nigel Gault, the chief U.S. economist for forecaster IHS Global Insight, was unimpressed.
"The July jobs report was not as bad as May and June. That's about the best that we can say for it," he said. In a research note, he said the one-tenth of 1 percent dip in the jobless rate was due most likely to a drop in the size of the labor force. The jobs increase, he said, is "still not enough to create a downward trend in the unemployment rate."
There was still plenty of hurt in Friday's jobs report. The BLS reported that the number of people who had been unemployed for less than five weeks fell by 387,000, but that just offset the similar increase during the previous month.
More importantly, the number of long-term unemployed — Americans who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more — was 6.2 million in July, virtually unchanged from the previous month. The long-term unemployed still account for 44.4 percent of all of the jobless.