Are you an economic touter or economic doubter? Friday's national jobs report for September gave ample fodder for both groups. Pick your preference. — Jeff Harrington firstname.lastname@example.org
1. The U.S. unemployment rate fell from 6.1 percent to 5.9 percent, breaking the psychological barrier of 6 percent to reach the lowest mark since July 2008. A broader measure of unemployment that includes discouraged workers and those marginally attached to the labor force also fell and is now at 11.8 percent. It's part and parcel of an unexpectedly rapid decline in the jobless rate the past two years. Florida's unemployment rate for September comes out on Oct. 17.
2. The country added a relatively robust 248,000 nonfarm jobs in September, surprising analysts who had predicted a 215,000 increase. The Labor Department also upwardly revised its numbers from the summer, saying 243,000 jobs were added in July (up from the initial count of 212,000) and 180,000 jobs were added in August (up from a tepid 142,000). Add it up, and over the past eight months, the country has added 1.9 million jobs. Perhaps more importantly, we're now adding jobs at the same pace as mid-2006, well before the recession took hold.
3. The markets like what they're seeing. Slightly stronger job creation paired with a still-low interest rate environment is a Goldilocks scenario of a not-too-hot-or-cold economy for investors. The Dow Jones Industrial Average shot up more than 200 points on the news, closing back above 17,000. The S&P 500 also rose more than 1 percent to close at 1,968.
1. Hourly earnings dropped a penny in September, essentially zero growth. In other words, depressed wages remained just that. Year-over year, hourly earnings are up a meager 2 percent, underscoring the weakness of the labor market and the predominance of lower-paying service jobs. Stagnant wages keep consumers from spending more, which, in turn, becomes a drag on the broader economy.
2. One reason unemployment fell so sharply — and continues to fall — is because fewer working-age Americans are in the labor pool, which measures both those who have a job and those who are looking. Last month, the labor force participation rate sunk slightly lower to 62.7 percent, the lowest it has been since 1978. Some of the drop in the labor pool is due to retiring Baby Boomers, but it's also tethered to an overhang of discouraged jobless who have given up looking for work at least temporarily and are therefore no longer counted in the labor pool.
3. If job creation continues at this pace, the Federal Reserve could raise interest rates sooner than expected in order to stave off inflationary concerns. Some economists on Friday predicted rates may start edging up early next year instead of an anticipated mid-year hike. If so, that means the Fed could be the first major central bank to hike interest rates. Higher interest rates put pressure on the U.S. dollar. It's a plus for savers but a downer for borrowers looking to buy homes and cars.