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Economist gives disappointing jobs report a C

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Rutgers University professor Joseph Seneca, fresh in back-to-school form, gave the U.S. jobs report for August a C.

Seneca said today's report, showing the U.S. economy added 169,000 jobs, barely passes, as employment is growing, but at a disappointingly slow pace. Surveys generally had predicted a gain of 180,000 jobs. Unemployment dipped slightly, to 7.3 percent.

Seneca said the labor market should be expanding at a healthier rate, given otherwise encouraging reports of higher car sales and increased manufacturing activity in recent weeks.

"This report is not indicating acceleration, it's indicating the opposite," said Seneca, of the university's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

Seneca said the federal government's downward revision of prior month job gains was particularly disappointing.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics now reports the economy added 104,000 jobs in July, down from an earlier estimate of 162,000. The bureau also lowered the June figure to 172,000 jobs, down from 188,000.

"The revision of previous months indicates a labor market pause," Seneca said. "The question will be: Will all the other headwinds — Syria, the deficit and budget battles —continue to add uncertainty?"

Most job gains in August occurred in retail, health care, professional and business services and leisure and hospitality, the BLS reported. Information jobs declined.

"We're still adding jobs — that's good," Seneca said. "But the jobs tend to be in lower- to moderate-income industries, like leisure and hospitality and public service jobs."

New Jersey's 8.6 percent jobless rate remains more than a point higher than the national average, but Seneca said the state's employers face mostly the same hesitancy to hire as employers nationwide.

Seneca said the difference in unemployment rates is partly because New Jersey has a more active labor force than the country. Higher participation rates can drive the jobless rate higher if more people are searching for jobs than opportunities are available.

The federal labor participation rate declined to 63.2 percent in August. Seneca said part of the reason the national jobless rate has fallen is because of an increase in discouraged workers, resulting in fewer people looking for work.

The BLS reports there were 4.3 million long-term unemployed, or those jobless for 27 weeks or more, in the United States last month, a figure that changed little. These individuals account for about 38 percent of the unemployed.

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