How much lower could it possibly go?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that the unemployment rate last month sank to 3.7 percent — the lowest level since 1969 — as the surging economy added another 134,000 jobs. The rate was two-tenths of a percentage point lower than the previous month.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans living today had not yet been born the last time the jobless rate was this low.
“The American economy continues to fire on all cylinders,” Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said in a statement. “During the past few months, we have seen GDP growth exceed 4 percent, consumer confidence rise to an 18-year high, and the stock market set new records.”
Independent analysts said the top-line number is encouraging but that there still is room for improvement.
“It’s certainly an impressive milestone,” said Alan Tonelson, an economic policy analyst who writes about jobs and trade at RealityChek. “That still leaves open the issue of job quality.”
The Labor Department also revised upward earlier estimates for July and August. The department said the economy added 165,000 jobs in July, up from the original estimate of 147,000.
And the August total was 270,000, compared with the initial estimate of 201,000. That means jobs grew by 87,000 more than previously reported for those two months. Monthly job gains have averaged 190,000 over the past three months.
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Experts cautioned that Hurricane Florence may have impacted the number, particularly in the hospitality and leisure industry, where hiring was weak.
Supporters of President Donald Trump credited his economic policies and last year’s tax cuts with fueling the current boom.
“Gone are the days of anemic jobs reports and subpar economic performance. The American economy has been unleashed and is roaring along.”
“Gone are the days of anemic jobs reports and subpar economic performance,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said in a statement. ‘The American economy has been unleashed and is roaring along. This is what the American people are capable of when we embrace liberty-based, free enterprise economic policies and reject the feel-good socialist policies that have resulted in untold misery and despair in places that have succumbed to their siren song.”
Average weekly earnings for private sector employees in September grew by $2.76 over the previous month. On an hourly basis, the increase was 8 cents. Hourly earnings are up 73 cents, a 2.8 percent increase.
But hourly wages for manufacturing were flat from August to September, and the year-over-year increase was just 1.1 percent.
“The manufacturing wage numbers continue to be weak, relatively speaking,” Tonelson told LifeZette. “That tells me manufacturing employers still aren’t feeling a lot of pressure to raise wages, despite what they say about worker shortages.”
Tonelson said earnings should be rising faster with an unemployment rate under 4 percent. “The wage picture remains very puzzling,” he said.
Tonelson said that despite the low unemployment rate, workers have less bargaining power because they are competing with a global workforce. He added that there is no evidence from the data that tariffs imposed by the Trump administration have had a negative impact on jobs.
Employment over the past couple of months has grown faster in sectors impacted by steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by Trump, Tonelson noted.
The economy created jobs in nearly every sector:
- Employment in professional and business services jumped by 54,000.
- Health care employment increased by 26,0000, with hospitals adding 12,000 jobs.
- Construction employment rose by 23,000.
- The manufacturing sector added 18,000 jobs, fueled by a spike in employment by producers of durable goods.
The unemployment rate among blacks dropped for the second straight month, from 6.3 percent to 6 percent. That is the second-lowest rate on record, just behind the all-time record of 5.9 percent set in May.