With only a handful of jobs reports until the 2012 Elections, each one takes on more and more significance. And this is an OK report for the Obama Administration. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the economy added 163,000 jobs in July. This was above the consensus of 100,000.
The news wasn’t entirely good. The revisions for May and June were negligible. And both the employment-population ratio (58.4%) and the labor force participation rate (63.7%) actually tracked down. That should have led to a reduction in the unemployment rate, but it actually ticked up by 0.1% to 8.3%. That’s a bit unusual with that job gain, so the household survey and the establishment survey diverged somewhere along the line. This could get revised in coming months, which is more likely to mean a lowering of the unemployment rate before the election. (UPDATE: if you look a couple decimal points out, the jobless rate actually moved from 8.217% to 8.254%, just enough to round up but not a tremendous amount.)
Obviously this wasn’t a good enough report for the Romney campaign to no longer have a story to tell about the bad economy. There are still 12.8 million Americans out of work, including 14.1% of the African-American population and 10.3% of Hispanics. 5.2 million Americans have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more (this is 40.7% of the total unemployed, which is actually the lowest percentage since December 2009). You add the involuntarily part-time workers, the underemployed, and those marginally attached to the labor force, and you’re still at around 25 million Americans suffering through what is, for them, a depression.
On the bright side, professional and business services added 49,000 jobs in July, buoyed by increases in computer systems design. Temp services went up, which sometimes means that businesses are on the verge of being ready to hire full-time work, though not always. Food and drinking services shot up by 29,000, which is in line with their annual rate. Manufacturing jumped 25,000, mostly from a rise in durable goods like automobiles. The reduction in seasonal auto industry layoffs lef to a volatile first-time jobless report during the month. That accounted for half of the rise.
There was a labor dispute in the utility industry (I think they mean ConEd in New York City) that led to 8,500 workers being taken off payrolls, so if you look at that you could say that the increase in jobs was even higher. That will probably get reflected in down-the-line revisions.
The average workweek remained the same, and in good news for workers, hourly earnings edged up by two cents and are outpacing inflation, up 1.7% year-over-year.
Overall, the report has something to highlight for the Obama Administration and the Republicans. There are only two, possibly three, more jobs reports until the election (depends on if they deliver a jobs report on November 2, four days before the polls open).