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July jobs report: Economy adds 164,000 jobs in July, unemployment rate sits at 3.7%

The U.S. economy added slightly fewer jobs than expected in July, while the unemployment rate held a hair above a 50-year low.

Here were the main figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s July employment report, versus consensus expectations based on Bloomberg-compiled data:

  • Change in non-farm payrolls: +164,000 (+165,000 exp. and +193,000 in June)

  • Unemployment rate: 3.7% (3.6% exp., 3.7% in June)

  • Average hourly earnings MoM: 0.3% (0.2% exp. and 0.3% in June)

  • Average hourly earnings YoY: 3.2% (3.1% exp. and 3.1% in June)

  • Labor force participation rate: 63.0% (62.9% expected and 62.9% in June)

Friday’s report included several downward revisions to previous data, shaving in aggregate 41,000 new employment additions off May and June’s reports. June’s change in non-farm payrolls was downwardly revised to see just 193,000 additions, from the 224,000 seen previously. And May’s previous reading of just 72,000 additions was cut further to 62,000.

Job gains averaged 140,000 per month over the past three months, following revisions.

Within July’s job gains, professional and technical services positions led advances, rising by 31,000 positions in the month. Health-care added 30,000 jobs, social assistance added 20,000, and financial activities saw a 18,000-position advance.

Manufacturing jobs jumped by 16,000 during the month, far exceeding consensus expectations for just 5,000 and representing the most additions since January. This came even as other reads on the domestic manufacturing sector have pointed to anemic activity, including the IHS Markit and the Institute of Supply Management purchasing managers indices.

The July jobs report – the first for the second half of the year – showed the 17th consecutive month of an unemployment rate at or below 4%.

While the headline unemployment rate was slightly higher than expected and just above April and May’s five-decade low of 3.6%, other metrics within the report underscored positive trends in bringing people back into the workforce.

The labor force participation rate unexpectedly ticked up to 63.0% in July, reaching the highest level since March and showing more workers either employed or actively looking for work. And the U-6 measure of unemployment – a broad metric capturing both the unemployed and those too discouraged to seek out work – declined to 7.0% in July, the lowest level since December 2000.

Meanwhile, a second consecutive 0.3% month-over-month rise in average hourly earnings pushed the year-over-year pace of wage growth to 3.2%. This remained well above the 1.6% gain in the consumer price index registered in June, suggesting consumer spending should remain strong.

At a glance: July 2019 jobs report
At a glance: July 2019 jobs report

The “official” BLS jobs report comes as other releases on the domestic labor market have signaled ongoing strength in this area in the economy.

ADP/Moody’s reported Wednesday that the economy added a better-than-expected 156,000 private payrolls in July, rising 44,000 from June’s upwardly revised level. And increases in jobless claims have been sanguine: The four-week moving average for weekly unemployment claims declined following the Department of Labor’s most recent release Thursday.

Meanwhile, in the Conference Board’s July consumer confidence report, the labor market differential – the difference between the percentage of consumers saying jobs are plentiful less the percent saying jobs are hard to find – rose to 33.4, the highest level since May. The NFIB’s most recent small business optimism survey reported that more than one-in-five small business owners considered finding qualified workers as their single most important business problem.

Friday’s jobs report also comes on the heels of the Federal Reserve’s first interest rate cut since 2008, and an escalation of tariff threats between the U.S. and China, with President Donald Trump announcing a new 10% tariff on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports. While central bank officials have not committed to a path toward further easing in the near-term, they have reiterated their commitment to monitoring incoming economic data in making their forthcoming monetary policy decisions.

“The 164,000 gain in non-farm payrolls in July illustrates that, for all the concern over weak global growth and trade policy, the domestic economy is still holding up reasonably well,” Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist for Capital Economics, wrote in a note. “President Donald Trump’s move to re-escalate tensions with China has clearly increased the pressure on the Fed to deliver further policy loosening, but the relative resilience of employment growth suggests that trade tensions alone won’t necessarily be enough to convince officials to cut rates again.”

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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