Economy Adds 201,000 Jobs in August, Unemployment Steady at 3.9 Percent

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the economy added 201,000 jobs in August; although downward revisions of 50,000 to the prior two months’ data brought the three-month average to 185,000. The unemployment rate remained at 3.9 percent, but the overall employment-to-population (EPOP) fell by 0.2 percentage points to 60.3 percent.

This 0.2 percentage point drop also showed up for prime-age workers (ages 25 to 54), although the EPOP for prime-age workers is still 0.9 percentage points above its year-ago level. For men, the year-over-year increase is 1.1 percentage points, while for women it is 0.8 percent. In both cases, EPOPs remain below prerecession peaks and well below the peaks hit in 2000.

Perhaps the most encouraging news in the report is evidence of a modest acceleration in wage growth. The average hourly wage increased by 2.9 percent over the last year. That compares to a 2.7 percent year-over-year rise in July, but it is too early to assume a clear trend. The year-over-year increase was 2.8 percent in July of 2016. The rate of increase, taking the average of the last three months compared with the prior three months, is slightly more rapid at 3.06 percent.

Interestingly, the pay gains are not especially strong in areas where employers have been complaining about labor shortages. The average hourly wage in construction was up 3.3 percent over the last year, but the gain was 3.5 percent back in September of 2016. Wages in manufacturing have risen by just 1.8 percent over the last year.