- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

2:04 p.m.

Hiring perked up last month as employers added 128,000 jobs, pulling the unemployment rate down to 4.7 percent and flashing a Labor Day weekend message of an economic expansion that still has staying power.

The latest snapshot, released by the Labor Department today, was a bit brighter than expected and should ease any fears that the expansion that began in late 2001 is in danger of fizzling out.

Still, there are obvious weak spots: Construction spending plunged in July by the largest margin in nearly five years, the Commerce Department reported, another sign of the cooldown in the once sizzling housing market; and in another report, the Institute for Supply Management said the manufacturing sector grew at a slower clip in August than in July.

The tally of new jobs last month was slightly stronger than the 125,000 that economists were forecasting. The nation’s unemployment rate dropped down a notch from a five-month high of 4.8 percent in July. Job gains for June and July also turned out to be better than previously estimated. In June, employers boosted payrolls by 134,000 positions, and in July they added another 121,000.

“Today’s [employment] report was solid and indicates that the economy is not falling away very quickly, but it certainly wasn’t so spectacular that it renewed oversized fears of inflation,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at LaSalle Bank. “The report is right on the mark. Goldilocks may be coming. The economy is not too hot nor too cold,” he said.

The jobs report comes as the nation’s work force gets ready to celebrate the Labor Day holiday and as the election season looms.

Economic conditions are likely to be on voters’ minds when they go to the polls in November.

Workers’ average hourly earnings edged up to $16.79 in August, a 0.1 percent increase from July. Economists were forecasting a bigger, 0.3 percent advance. Though workers welcome strong wage growth, economists worry that a rapid and prolonged pickup in wages can ignite inflation fears.

Over the 12 months ending in August, wages grew by a strong 3.9 percent. The last time this figure was higher was in June 2001.

Across industries, the jobs picture was mixed. Schools, health care providers, construction companies, financial services and others boosted payrolls in August. However, factories shed 11,000 workers — the second straight month of job cuts — and retailers slashed 13,500 positions. Transportation and warehousing companies cut 7,100 slots.

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