Employers added a mere 142,000 jobs in September, the government said Friday, casting a shadow on the nation’s economy in a Labor Department report that analysts variously described as “dreadful,” “a body blow” and “grim.”
Adding to the gloom, the agency revised August’s employment numbers sharply downward, showing that only 136,000 jobs were created that month, well below the 173,000 originally estimated. The two consecutive weak reports pointed to a loss of momentum for the economy over the summer.
And in another sign of job market stress, Wal-Mart laid off 450 workers at its headquarters Friday as the world’s largest retailer attempts to become more nimble so it can better compete with the likes of Amazon.com.
There are more than 18,000 people who work at the headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. The cuts were across all areas, from finance to global e-commerce. The company said the employees were spoken with individually early Friday.
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The Labor Department report said the unemployment rate held steady at 5.1 percent, but hourly wages for private-sector workers actually fell slightly last month, suggesting that ordinary workers are still failing to take home any meaningful benefits from a recovery that has being going on for more than six years.
News of slower hiring last month jolted the market early Friday. But stocks, after slumping in early trading, finished the day with a solid gain.
The Dow rose 200.36 points, or 1.2 percent, to 16,472.37. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 27.54, or 1.4 percent, to 1,951.36. The Nasdaq rose 80.69, or 1.7 percent, to 4,707.78.
In the upside-down logic of Wall Street, discouraging economic reports have often been treated as encouraging because it meant the Federal Reserve would keep lending rates at record lows.
The newest report came just two weeks after the Fed decided that the economy’s advance was still too fragile to risk lifting interest rates from their near-zero level, even as it hinted that it might go ahead by December. Now, experts say, the latest evidence of a slowdown may well push any rise into next year.
“There’s nothing good in this report,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust in Chicago. “We had very low levels of job creation, wage growth isn’t budging and the unemployment rate would have risen if the labor force participation rate hadn’t fallen.”
The participation rate dipped to 62.4 percent from 62.6 percent, a sign that workers who were sidelined during the recession are still not being enticed back into the job market.
Tannenbaum said he worried that the United States is now importing some of the economic malaise that has infected other parts of the world, particularly China and Europe.
The manufacturing industry has been hurt by the strong dollar and weak global demand, the oil industry has cut back sharply on investment in response to the sharp fall in energy prices, and farming has suffered because of slumping agricultural commodity prices.
The industries that absorbed the greatest losses were mining, logging and manufacturing, while health care, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services remained strong. There were also 24,000 government jobs created, mostly at the local level.
With Friday’s revision, job gains have averaged just 167,000 a month for the last three months, compared with more than 200,000 over the previous 12 months. The average length of the workweek dipped slightly.
There have, however, been other recent signs of sturdiness in the economy to counter the discouraging news on the jobs front. Consumer demand at home has been on the upswing and vehicle sales have been strong. And wage growth for August was revised upward to a gain of 0.4 percent in hourly pay for private-sector workers.
However, others fear that the economy is never going to deliver many gains to workers who have been waiting years to receive any bounty from the improvements in growth.
William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO, said: “We’ve pretty much reached a kind of stability, and the unemployment rate will continue to fall, mostly because of retirements.”