Economy Watch: Slower Jobs and the Underemployed

Despite the relatively low number of jobs created in August, some sectors continued to add jobs. The number of persons marginally attached to the labor force also decreased that month.

Despite the relatively low number of jobs created in August—142,000 versus a 12-month average of 212,000 per month—some sectors continued to add jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday. Professional and business services, for instance, added 47,000 jobs in August, and have added 639,000 over the past year. In that category, administrative and support services added 23,000 jobs, architectural and engineering services added 3,000, and management and technical consulting services added 3,000.

Employment in healthcare increased by 34,000 in August, while employment in food services and drinking places was up 22,000 for the month. Construction employment continued to trend upward in August, adding 20,000 jobs, which is in line with its average monthly job gain of 18,000 over the last 12 months. On the other hand, manufacturing employment was unchanged in August, following an increase of 28,000 in July.

Manufacturing didn’t change in August, either, and retail employment lost 8,000, with food and beverage stores down 17,000 jobs. Though not citing it by name, the BLS mentioned the Market Basket fracas as a factor in the contraction of retail jobs in August (since it was settled, the dispute’s unlikely to be a factor in the September report).

Continued Drop in Number of Underemployed

In addition, the number of persons marginally attached to the labor force decreased in August, coming in at 2.1 million, down by 201,000 from a year earlier, according to the BLS. Those are people who weren’t in the labor force but wanted to be, were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the last 12 months. They’re not counted as unemployed because they didn’t look for work in the four weeks preceding the survey.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) declined by 192,000 to three million in August. They account for 31.2 percent of the unemployed, and over the past 12 months, their number has declined by 1.3 million. The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons—part-time workers who want full-time jobs but can’t find them—didn’t change much in August, coming in at 7.3 million.

The August headline U.S. unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, down a 10th of a percent from July (and lower than a year ago, when it was 7.2 percent). The BLS’s U-6 metric, which counts not only the officially unemployed but those who have looked for work unsuccessfully in the last 12 months, along with part-time workers who want to be full time, came in at 12 percent in August, down from 12.2 percent the month before. A year ago, U-6 was 13.6 percent, but at the beginning of the 2008 recession it was 8.8 percent.

Wall Street moved positively on Friday despite the weakish jobs numbers, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 67.78 points, or 0.4 percent. The S&P 500 rose 0.5 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.45 percent.