The American economy added 173,000 jobs in August, a weaker showing than expected that makes it more likely the Federal Reserve will delay its long-awaited increase in interest rates when policy makers meet in two weeks.
But there was just enough positive data in the report on Friday from the Labor Department to keep a September move in play, even as Wall Street increasingly looks at the possibility of a Fed move in October, or at the central bank’s last meeting of the year, in December.
The report was hotly anticipated, mainly because it represents the last major piece of data that the central bank will have on hand before its meeting on Sept. 16 and 17.
Although hiring in August was well below the 220,000-job gain that economists had expected, the unemployment rate fell to 5.1 percent from 5.3 percent, the lowest since early 2008.
At that level, joblessness is nearing the level that economists and the Fed consider close to full employment, and inflation foes worry that an unemployment rate significantly less than that might result in an overheated economy in the long term.
That might seem strange to tens of millions of workers still looking for raises and full-time positions, but there are nascent signs that wages are finally beginning to tick higher. In contrast to the disappointing headline number, average hourly earnings rose by a better-than-expected 0.3 percentage point rate in August.
Payroll gains for June and July were revised upward by 44,000.
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