Solid hiring, better pay draw more Americans into job hunt
WASHINGTON (AP) » Drawn by steady hiring and slightly higher pay, more Americans began looking for work in September, a sign of renewed optimism about the U.S. job market.
The influx of job seekers sent the unemployment rate up slightly as more Americans were counted as unemployed. Taken as a whole, Friday’s jobs report from the government painted a picture of a resilient economy that could keep the Federal Reserve on track to raise interest rates in December.
Employers added 156,000 jobs, fewer than the 167,000 in August and well below last year’s average monthly gain of 230,000. Still, September’s hiring pace, if sustained, would likely be more than enough to absorb new job seekers.
At the same time, the unemployment rate inched up to 5 percent from 4.9 percent as more than 400,000 people began looking for jobs and some didn’t immediately find them. The rate has barely budged in the past year even though employers have added 2.4 million jobs. That’s because many Americans have begun seeking work after having remained on the sidelines for much of the economic recovery.
“The word has spread that there are jobs to be had, and more and more people are flocking to the job market,” said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at California State University’s Smith School of Business, said.
The economy’s durability, despite its sluggish growth, contrasts sharply with the tumultuous ups and downs of the presidential race, which is nearing its end. The two major presidential nominees have sketched sharply conflicting views of the economy’s health and the best ways to accelerate its growth.
Donald Trump focuses on the loss of manufacturing jobs, for which he blames badly negotiated trade agreements. The Republican nominee also points to what he calls excess regulation for stifling businesses and depressing hiring. He pledges to renegotiate or withdraw from the trade pacts and reduce regulation.
Hillary Clinton notes that 15 million jobs have been created since the economy bottomed in 2010. Still, she supports additional infrastructure spending to try to accelerate growth and hiring. And she wants to make college more affordable and community college free.
Friday’s jobs report isn’t likely to affect the course of the election. But it reflected improvement in two key areas: job-hunting and pay. For much of the recovery, the proportion of Americans who either had a job or were looking for one had declined as an aging population increased the pace of retirements. Many unemployed people also grew discouraged and stopped looking. Others stayed in school or stayed at home caring for relatives.
All that helped keep the unemployment rate down. People who are out of work aren’t counted as unemployed unless they’re actively searching for a job.