WASHINGTON — U.S. employers have yet to start hiring aggressively — a trend the Federal Reserve will weigh in deciding this month whether to slow its bond buying.
Employers added 169,000 jobs in August, but fewer in June and July than previously thought, the Labor Department said Friday. June, July and August amounted to the weakest three-month stretch of job growth in a year.
The unemployment rate dropped to 7.3 percent, the lowest in nearly five years. But it fell because more Americans stopped looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed.
All told, the report adds up to a mixed picture of the U.S. job market: Hiring is steady but subpar. Much of the hiring is in lower-paying occupations. And many people are giving up on the job market in frustration.
The jobs picture is sure to weigh heavily when the Fed meets Sept. 17 and 18 to discuss whether to scale back its $85 billion a month in Treasury and mortgage bond purchases.
David Jones, chief economist at DMJ Advisors, said he still thinks the Fed will begin slowing its bond buying later this month. But he suspects the August data and the reduced job totals for June and July will lead the Fed to trim more gradually.
The revised job growth for June and July shrank the previously estimated gain for those months by 74,000. July's gain is now estimated at 104,000 — the fewest in more than a year and down from a previous estimate of 162,000. June's was revised to 172,000 from 188,000.
In the past three months, employers have added an average of just 148,000 jobs. The average monthly gain for 2013 so far is 180,000, slightly below the 183,000 average for 2012.
One possible concern for the Fed is that most of the hiring in August was in lower-paying industries such as retail, restaurants and bars.
Retailers added 44,000 jobs in August. Hotels, restaurants and bars added 27,000. Temp hiring rose by 13,000. Manufacturers added 14,000 in August, the first gain after five months. But construction jobs were unchanged in August. And the information industry cut 18,000 jobs.