You’d be forgiven for being bored by the September jobs report. There is nothing sexy about the latest numbers, which were released Tuesday morning: The economy picked up 148,000 jobs and unemployment fell slightly to 7.2 percent. The report was not heartening, particularly as the country gears up for another round of year-end budget talks, which have led to confidence-damaging fights in the past.
The key phrase for the September report is “little change.” The total number of unemployed Americans is little changed from August at 11.3 million. The ethnic breakdowns among the unemployed were also little changed, as was the number of long-term unemployed (people jobless for at least 27 weeks), which stood at 4.1 million for September. The U-6 rate, a broader measure of unemployment that includes people “marginally attached” to the labor force, as well as people employed part-time for economic reasons, declined only slightly to 13.6 percent in September from 13.7 percent the previous month.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former Congressional Budget Office director, described the numbers as “lackluster, tepid, listless, or soft.”
That may prove to be the most positive news for jobs growth for the rest of the year. The Oct. 16 agreement to end the nation’s partial government shutdown and avert default on the country’s borrowing limit set up another round of fiscal fights and congressional contention at the end of the year. Previous budget battles have proven to be less than helpful for the muddling recovery. September’s report predates the culmination of the most recent fiscal showdown, whose effects are more likely to be found in the October employment report.
Just how bleak are the September numbers? They don’t even beat the average of what has been a pretty tepid year for growth. Over the previous 12 months, the U.S. economy averaged 185,000 job gains per month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The unemployment rate is still crawling toward the 7 percent level where the Federal Reserve has said it will consider winding down its bond-buying stimulus program, and is at its lowest level since November 2008. Paul Ashworth, the chief U.S. economist at macroeconomics research firm Capital Economics, said Tuesday’s report is likely to reinforce the market’s expectation that the Fed would continue its asset-purchase program into early 2014.
The September report was originally scheduled to be released on Oct. 4, but was delayed by the government shutdown. The October jobs report will be released one week late, on Nov. 8.