US job growth slowed in August but economy still looks solid


WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. job market hit a lull in August, with employers adding a solid but less-than-robust 156,000 jobs and holding back on meaningful pay raises for most workers.

Today's jobs report from the government pointed to an economy that is still steadily generating jobs, though more slowly than it did earlier in its recovery from the Great Recession. With the economy now in its ninth year of expansion and unemployment near a 16-year low, fewer people are looking for work and fewer jobs are being filled.

The hiring data for August had yet to account for the damage from Hurricane Harvey, whose economic impact will be felt in coming months as more people seek unemployment benefits and industrial production will likely reflect the loss of Texas refineries and factories.

The unemployment rate ticked up from 4.3 percent to a still-low 4.4 percent, the Labor Department said. The government also revised down its estimate of job growth in June and July by a combined 41,000, leaving an average monthly gain this year of a decent 176,000.

One reason why few analysts expressed concern about last month's slower job gain is that monthly employment reports can be volatile – especially figures for August. Employers are gearing up for the start of fall, schools are reopening and the government can't always precisely factor those changes into its August employment data.

"It's more noise than signal," Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at tax consultant RSM, said of today's report. "Focus on the longer-term trend of growth in employment."

One persistent soft spot in the job market has been meager pay raises. Average hourly pay rose just 2.5 percent over the 12 months that ended in August. Wage growth typically averages 3.5 percent to 4 percent annually when unemployment is this low.

Economists note low unemployment normally results in higher pay raises once employers feel compelled to pay more to attract or keep workers.

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