U.S. job growth brakes to eight-month low, labor force shrinks

Fri Sep 5, 2014 5:46pm EDT
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. employers hired the fewest number of workers in eight months in August and more Americans gave up the hunt for jobs, providing a cautious Federal Reserve with more reasons to wait longer before raising interest rates.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 142,000 last month after expanding by 212,000 in July, the Labor Department said on Friday. The jobless rate fell one-tenth of a percentage point to 6.1 percent, but that was partly because people dropped out of the labor force.

"Fed Chair Janet Yellen will be able to use the weakness to hold off hawks who would like to raise rates soon," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago.

Data for June and July were revised to show 28,000 fewer jobs created than previously reported. In addition, manufacturing saw no job growth and retail payrolls declined for the first time since February, although a workforce disruption at a grocery store chain in New England weighed on the count.

Even though job growth slowed, the report still suggested that some of the slack in the labor market was being taken up.

U.S. stocks ended higher, notching a fifth straight week of gains. Prices for U.S. Treasury debt rose marginally, while the dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies even though economists had expected payrolls to rise by 225,000.

Interest rate futures, which had pointed to a likely rate hike in June of next year, rose to suggest less of a chance. Nevertheless, a Reuters poll of top bond firms found nine of 17 looked for an increase in borrowing costs in the second quarter; a poll a month ago showed only six of 19 expected such a move.

Swonk and other economists questioned whether the data was presenting an accurate picture given that it was at odds with other bullish labor market indicators.   Continued...

Job seekers stand in line to meet with prospective employers at a career fair in New York City, October 24, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar