U.S. payrolls surged the second straight month in July as employers added 209,000 jobs, underscoring that hiring remains robust despite a tight labor market that’s making it tougher to find workers.
The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, fell to 4.3% from 4.4%, the Labor Department said Friday.
Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected 180,000 payroll gains.
The labor market has been volatile in recent months. Employment gains were lackluster in May because many college students who started jobs late in the month weren't counted. That led to unexpectedly strong advances in June. Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist of Barclays, said before Friday’s report was released that it likely would more accurately reflect this year’s overall trend.
That trend has revealed a modest slowing in average monthly job gains to about 180,000 from 187,000 last year and 226,000 in 2015. Economists point to the low unemployment rate that’s making it harder for employers to find available workers. Yet many analysts expected the tight market to reduce monthly job additions more sharply to 160,000 to 170,000. Instead, hiring may be bolstered by discouraged workers on the sidelines who are resuming their job searches in the improved market, providing businesses a shadow labor force, some economists say.
That, along with other factors, also could be tempering pay increases that should be accelerating more substantially as employers bid up to attract a smaller pool of workers.
Some economists cited other reasons for an anticipated moderation in payroll gains last month. Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist of High Frequency Economics, noted that government hiring was unusually strong in June, likely leading to a subsequent retreat.
Yet neither tepid job growth nor weak wage increases will likely prevent the Federal Reserve from starting to shrink its $4.5 trillion balance sheet in September, said economist Andrew Hunter of Capital Economics . Rather, he said, only “disastrous” payroll reports for July and August could throw the Fed of course. The central bank bought more than $3 trillion in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities after the financial crisis to lower long-term interest rates and stimulate the economy. Fed officials now want to gradually shed those assets and nudge rates higher..
Several other labor market indicators for July have been encouraging. Payroll processor ADP reported that businesses added a solid 178,000 jobs. Initial jobless claims, a gauge of layoffs, ticked up but hovered near four-decade lows. And outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas said announced layoffs fell to a 19-month low.
At the same time, measures of employment in both the manufacturing and service sectors fell moderately, according to Institute for Supply Management indices.