The labor market slowed substantially in September as employers added 134,000 jobs in a possible sign that worker shortages and U.S. trade skirmishes are starting to take a bigger toll on hiring.
Some economists believed Hurricane Florence also may have dampened payroll gains last month.
The unemployment rate fell from 3.9 percent to 3.7 percent, lowest since December 1969, the Labor Department said Friday.
Economists had estimated 185,000 new jobs were created last month, according to a Bloomberg survey.
Goldman Sachs expected the hurricane to reduce employment by 33,000 in the Carolinas. But Morgan Stanley said the storm likely affected too limited of an area and struck too late during the week of Labor’s survey to have a meaningful impact. Workers are counted as employed as long as they show up for part of their pay period.
On the positive side, employment increases for July and August were revised by a total 87,000. July’s gain was raised from 147,000 to 165,000 and August’s from 201,000 to 270,000. That largely offsets the weak September showing.
Meanwhile, the labor market faces other challenges. Businesses are having a harder time finding qualified job candidates. Many analysts expect the crunch to slow hiring in the months ahead despite strong economic growth.
And a new Trump administration tariff on $200 billion in Chinese imports — along with China’s retaliation against US imports – took effect last month, hitting many consumer goods. That has dinged business confidence and could curtail hiring.
So far, job growth has been surprisingly strong this year despite the hurdles, averaging about 200,000 a month, up from 182,000 in 2017.
Wage growth slows a tad
Average hourly earnings rose 8 cents to $27.24, lowering the annual gain to 2.8 percent from a nine-year high of 2.9 percent in August.
Goldman said the hurricane may have artificially inflated hourly earnings by trimming many workers’ hours without necessarily reducing their pay. Over the longer term, faster pay increases could lead the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates more briskly to prevent a spike in inflation. That could spook markets by shifting investments from bonds to less risky interest paying bonds.
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