What to look for in the September jobs report

On Friday, at the end of a week that has brought several worrisome signs about the American and global economies, the US government will release its always closely watched report on jobs.

America’s labor market has remained strong — historically so — for a long time. Unemployment has been hovering around a half-century low for months. That said, the average number of new jobs created every month has dipped to 158,000 so far in 2019 compared to last year’s average of 223,000.

People have jobs so they have kept spending, and that has kept the economy growing. Consumers account for two-thirds of the US gross domestic product.

Some economists and investors are concerned that cracks could begin emerging in America’s tight labor market. Friday’s report is expected to show that 145,000 jobs were added in September, up from 130,000 in August, according to a survey of economists conducted by Refinitiv. The unemployment rate is forecast to remain unchanged at 3.7%.

But the volatile nature of economic policy remains a wild card.

Of foremost concern is President Donald Trump’s trade war, which continues to provoke retaliation and is flaring on several fronts. The most destructive piece of it is the ongoing back and forth between the United States and China. The two countries have traded tariffs on the exports of the other for over a year. There’s little sign that will let up anytime soon.

And the more that America’s companies get stressed about the trade developments, the more likely it is the jitters will show up in the labor market.

US manufacturers are getting dinged by the global economic slowdown. China, India, South Korea and Germany have stumbled in recent quarters — a global slowdown that’s being amplified by the trade war.

The Trump administration this week said it would impose tariffs on $7.5 billion worth of European goods coming into the United States. That means Americans will pay more for Scotch and Irish whiskies, Parmesan cheese and French wine. It will probably also provoke a retaliatory response from the European Union.

The effects are starting to ripple. An important report on American factories this week found that manufacturing activity in September contracted, for the second straight month. A report on private payrolls also came in below expectations. And the services sector grew far less than expected last month.

Investors are anxious that Friday’s labor market report would add to that string of reports showing weaker-than-expected economic data.

Some of the hiring in September will be by the US Census Bureau, which is still ramping up for the American population count that is conducted every 10 years. Census hiring will probably inflate the total number of jobs somewhat, experts said.

“Everything we’re seeing is that the labor market is slowing but still healthy,” said Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao.

The United States is in its longest economic expansion in history. It is quite natural for the labor market to slow down, Zhao said. The question has been, and remains, when will that happen?

Average hourly earnings are expected to have ticked up 0.3% in September, slightly less than in the month prior.

But even if wage growth declines, “it’s still at a level higher than it [was] during most of this expansion,” said Indeed economist Nick Bunker.

“That said, a slowdown in earnings could put a crimp on personal consumption growth,” he added.

This again could weigh on consumer spending and might have a negative impact on economic growth.

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