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Only 96,000 jobs added in August; unemployment rate drops to 8.1%

Updated: September 7, 2012 7:54PM



WASHINGTON — U.S. employers added 96,000 jobs last month, a weak figure that could slow any momentum President Barack Obama hoped to gain from his speech to the Democratic National Convention but which could push ahead his administration’s stimulus efforts.

The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July, the Labor Department said Friday. But that was only because more people gave up looking for work. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively searching.

The government also said 41,000 fewer jobs were created in July and June than first estimated. The economy has added just 139,000 jobs a month since the beginning of the year, below 2011’s average of 153,000.

Dow Jones industrial futures, which had been up before the report, fell soon after it was released.

Some categories defied the downturn, as reflected by Chicago’s continued uptick in hiring at data centers, call centers, freight-moving logistics companies and technology startups with solutions ranging from healthcare to bargain-hunting to custom-design production.

The biggest national employment increases month-over-month came in bars and restaurants, up 28,000; health care, up 17,000; computer systems design, up 11,000; finance and insurance, up 11,000; utilities, up 9,000; management and technical consulting services, up 9,000; and engineering and architectural services, up 4,000.

The National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy organization, said the unemployment rate among Latinos ticked down slightly to 10.2 percent from 10.3 percent in July.

Though the increase in jobs at restaurants, bars and hotels boosted Latino employment, the Council said a true economic recovery will occur when most of the new jobs provide benefits, safe conditions, a living wage and opportunities for promotion.

For college graduates, the outlook also appears positive, with companies reporting they will increase their hiring from the class of 2013 by 12 percent from the class of 2012, said Mimi Collins, spokeswoman for the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

The most in-demand students are majoring in accounting, finance, engineering and computer science, according to NACE’s Jobs Outlook Report.

The biggest job losses occurred in manufacturing, down 15,000, and government, down 7,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Since employment continues to be slow, Chicago startups offer new ways for people to find work, ranging from featuring a job seeker’s friends’ input at GiveBrand.com to Kauzu’s cellphone and smartphone apps that offer listings of the closest job openings near public bus stops.

Politically, the hiring figures and unemployment rate will be among the most consequential of the campaign. They arrive just as the presidential race enters its final stretch. Jobs are the core issue, and the report could sway some undecided voters.

There will be two additional employment reports before Election Day Nov. 6. But by then, more Americans will have made up their minds.

In his speech Thursday night, Obama acknowledged incomplete progress in repairing the still-struggling economy and asked voters to remain patient.

“The truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over the decades,” Obama said.

Tepid hiring could nudge the Federal Reserve to announce some new action to boost growth after its meeting next week. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last week said the labor market’s slow progress was a “grave concern,” causing experts to believe the central bank could ease monetary policy when it meets next week.

The report was weak throughout.

In addition to those who’ve given up looking for work, many young Americans are avoiding the job market by remaining in school. All told, the proportion of the population that is either working or looking for work fell to 63.5 percent. That’s the lowest level in 31 years for the labor force participation rate.

Average hourly wages dipped a penny to $23.52 and are only slightly ahead of inflation in the past year.

The average work week was unchanged in August after being revised downward in July to 34.4 hours. And the number of temporary jobs fell for the first time in five months. Both figures suggest that companies are seeing less demand for their services and need fewer workers.

Many of the jobs were in lower-paying industries such as retail, which added 6,100 jobs, and hotels, restaurants and other leisure industries, which gained 34,000. Higher-paying manufacturing jobs fell by 15,000, the most in two years.

— Contributing: AP



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