September Jobs Report: Bad Enough To Be Good?

So the September Jobs Report was pretty lousy, per this report from the New York Times‘ Patricia Cohen:

Employers added a mere 142,000 jobs in September, the Labor Department said on Friday, suggesting that the American economy is losing momentum after a similarly lackluster report for the previous month.

The official unemployment rate held steady at 5.1 percent, but hourly wages for private sector workers actually fell slightly after jumping by a relatively robust 0.4 percent in August.

The employment report for August was revised sharply downward, showing the economy created only 136,000 jobs, well below the 173,000 originally estimated.

But as those of you who have been following these reports for the last year already know, the key question isn’t so much how the economy is doing, but whether it’s doing poorly enough for the Federal Reserve Board to postpone plans to raise interest rates and make sure it does poorly!

Friday’s report came just two weeks after the Federal Reserve decided that the recovery was still too frail to risk lifting interest rates from their near-zero level. The latest evidence of a weakening economy may push any rate increase into next year even though the Fed chairwoman, Janet L. Yellen, had previously suggested that the central bank was likely to go ahead with a rate increase before year’s end.

Cohen’s story does go on to discuss structural trends in employment that indicate low-skilled people working in traditional industries like manufacturing and retail are not being drawn back into the work force and may be giving up even more than in the recent past. Such trends have big implications for public policy, but may well be dwarfed by how the Fed and markets react to the big, blurry picture.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.