Job creation for August was a huge disappointment, with the economy adding just 235,000 positions, the Labor Department reported Friday.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for 720,000 new hires.
The unemployment rate dropped to 5.2% from 5.4%, in line with estimates.
August’s total was the worst since January and comes with heightened fears of the pandemic and the impact that rising Covid cases could have on what has been so far a mostly robust recovery.
Weekly jobless filings have fallen to their lowest levels since the early days of the pandemic in March 2020, but a large employment gap remains.
It’s not that there aren’t enough jobs out there: Placement firm Indeed estimates that there are about 10.5 million openings now, easily a record for the U.S. labor market.
Federal Reserve officials are watching the jobs numbers closely for clues as to whether they can start easing back some of the policy help they’ve been providing since the pandemic started.
In recent weeks, central bank leaders have expressed optimism about the employment picture but said they would need to see continued strength before changing course. At stake for now is the Fed’s massive monthly bond-buying program, which could start getting scaled back before the end of the year.
However, if the jobs data gets softer that could prompt Fed officials to wait until 2022 before tightening.
This is breaking news. Please check back here for updates.
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