Unemployment rate falls to 8.1% amid weak job growth

FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012 file photo, job seekers fill out applications at a construction job fair in New York. U.S. employers added 96,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, a weak figure that could slow any momentum President Barack Obama hoped to gain from his speech to the Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012 file photo, job seekers fill out applications at a construction job fair in New York. U.S. employers added 96,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, a weak figure that could slow any momentum President Barack Obama hoped to gain from his speech to the Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) (Seth Wenig)
Posted: September 08, 2012

The nation's payrolls added 96,000 jobs in August, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent, both statistics only barely positive.

The 96,000 jobs continued the upward trend of growth, but at a rate that will do little to bring employment to pre-recession levels.

The 8.1 percent unemployment rate, while down from 9.1 percent a year ago and 8.3 percent in July, is as much a function of workers giving up and abandoning the labor force as it is a sign more people are getting back to work.

As Democrats were heading for home Friday from the party's convention in Charlotte, N.C., the jobs report was certain to become major presidential-campaign fodder, with just enough ambiguity to it to allow pontificators from both sides to make hay of the numbers.

"With the conventions behind us, it is clear that the politics of the economic data will be boiling over. Nothing is more political than the employment report," said Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisors in Bucks County.

Indeed, the Labor Department's report had been out just 21 minutes when U.S. House Speaker John Boehner's office sent out this statement:

"This report underscores President Obama's failed promises to get our economy moving again," wrote Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, an important swing state. "The unemployment rate has been higher than eight percent for 43 consecutive months ... and millions of Americans remain out of work or underemployed.

"President Obama made a spirited pitch for the failed status quo this week, but the fact is: we can do better," the statement said.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), who used to hold Boehner's job, quickly countered: "This week, President Obama and Democrats articulated a clear choice for Americans, and with today's jobs report we must keep moving forward for jobs and a stronger middle class. But Republicans keep standing in the way of growth and certainty for our economy."

Within an hour of the report's morning release, Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, sounded a predictably more optimistic note, even as Obama kept a low profile en route to campaign stops in New Hampshire.

"While there is more work that remains to be done, today's employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression," Krueger wrote on the White House blog.

"It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007," Krueger's post said.

By 11 a.m., GOP candidate Mitt Romney's Facebook page had achieved 6.4 million "likes" for this posting:

"If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover. For every net new job created, nearly four Americans gave up looking for work entirely. America can do better," Romney posted.

According to Friday's report, private-sector hiring expanded by 103,000 jobs, while government shed 7,000 jobs, particularly at state and local levels.

Among the 6,000 state employees cut nationwide in August were 54 permanent and temporary Pennsylvania employees who answer phones and process unemployment claims. The state's Department of Labor and Industry closed a processing center in Philadelphia.

Manufacturing, which had been chugging along, reverted to its old pattern of job loss, with durable-goods manufacturing taking the biggest hit. There was a slight increase in construction hiring, even beyond normal seasonal patterns.

The service sector added 119,000 jobs, with positive numbers in retail, transportation and warehousing, utilities, information, leisure and hospitality, financial activities, and business and professional services.

Education and health-services hiring expanded, but most of that growth was in health care. (The education component of this statistic includes university and private-school hiring. Public school teachers are recorded under governmental hiring.)

Overall, the 96,000 jobs added in August don't quite reach the 100,000 or so needed monthly to keep up with population increases.

Many employment statistics showed significant improvement in comparison to 2011 levels, but changes from July to August were mixed.

For example, the number of unemployed people fell to 12.5 million in August, from 12.8 million in July. In August 2011, 13.9 million people who wanted jobs didn't have them.

Also, the number of people working part time because they could only get part-time jobs or because their hours were cut dropped to 8 million from 8.2 million in July. In August 2011, 8.8 million were reluctant part-time workers.

On the other hand, median length of unemployment - the amount of time people spend out of work - rose to 18 weeks from 16.7 weeks. In August 2011, the normal out-of-work time was 21.7 weeks.


Contact Jane M. Von Bergen at jvonbergen@phillynews.com, @JaneVonBergen on Twitter, or at 215-854-2769. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing

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