Employers added fewer workers than anticipated in July even as the U.S. jobless rate dropped to 7.4 percent, indicating uneven progress in the labor market.
The 162,000 increase in payrolls last month was the smallest in four months and followed a revised 188,000 rise in June that was less than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 93 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 185,000 gain. Workers spent fewer hours on the job and hourly earnings fell for the first time since October.
The slower pace of hiring suggests some employers are confident they’re able to meet demand with current staffing levels as the economy begins to emerge from a first-half slowdown. At the same time, improving consumer confidence and auto sales have encouraged other companies such as Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) and Ford Motor Co. (F) to take on more workers.
“It is still a difficult job market,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said before the report. “The impact on employment from the sequestration is still to work its way through the economy.” At the same time, “conditions are falling into place for stronger growth going forward. As long as demand grows, businesses will need to increase production and hiring.”
Retailers added almost 47,000 workers in July, the most in eight months. Employment in education and health services showed the smallest gain in a year. Construction employment fell and manufacturing rose for the first time in five months.
Bloomberg survey estimates for total payrolls ranged from increases of 23,000 to 225,000. Revisions to prior reports subtracted a total of 26,000 jobs from overall payrolls in the previous two months.
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