- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2007


Fears that the country could slide into a recession eased in September as employers created the most jobs in four months and workers’ wages grew solidly. The unemployment rate crept up to 4.7 percent, the highest in over a year but still low by historical standards.

The tally of 110,000 net new jobs generated in September clearly heartened investors and analysts. Yet what they really took comfort in was the revelation that the job market — a main pillar for the economy — didn’t crack under the pressure of a painful credit crunch and housing slump in August.

The Labor Department’s fresh snapshot of employment conditions around the country released yesterday showed that the economy actually created 89,000 jobs in August.

That was a huge and crucial turnaround from the loss of 4,000 jobs — the first decline in four years — reported a month before. At the time, that news had sent Wall Street into a nose dive, stoked fears that the economy was heading toward recession and was seen as cementing the Federal Reserve’s decision to lower interest rates.

To be sure, the ill effects of the housing and credit problems have hurt some employers, slowing national job growth this year. But the situation is nowhere near as dire as many were led to believe from the initial August employment report.

“We are on much sounder footing,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at LaSalle Bank. “To be fair, it is clear the pace of monthly job creation has slowed and the unemployment rate is creeping higher but neither measure is indicative of an imminent recession, which was the scenario on everyone’s lips just a month ago.”

The main reason behind the turnaround in the August payroll figure? A big gain in government employment, especially in hiring teachers at local schools.

The bump up in the unemployment rate from 4.6 percent in August came as hundreds of thousands of people — perhaps feeling better about their prospects — resumed job searches.

The new rate of 4.7 percent, the highest since the summer of 2006, is still considered low by historical standards. After the country’s last recession, in 2001, the unemployment rate peaked at 6.3 percent. More than two decades ago, for example, civilian unemployment went over 10 percent as the economy suffered through deep downturns.

The strain from housing and credit woes was clearly evident in some industries. Construction companies, financial firms, factories and retailers cut jobs last month. However, gains in education and health services, professional services, leisure and hospitality, and in government work more than offset those losses, leading to a net gain in new jobs in September.

Those with jobs saw fatter paychecks.

Average hourly earnings rose to $17.57 in September, up 4.1 percent over the past 12 months. It was the highest annual gain since February. Wage growth is the fuel for consumer spending, a major contributor to national economic growth.

Continued solid wage growth should help cushion people from the negative forces arising from the worst housing slump in 16 years and a jarring credit crunch, analysts said. That should lessen the odds consumers might clam up and send the economy into a tailspin, some said.

To cushion the economy from those negative forces, the Federal Reserve last month sliced a key interest rate by one-half percentage point to 4.75 percent. It was the first rate cut in more than four years.

Looking ahead, some economists said the new employment figures cast doubt on whether the Fed will cut rates again at its next meeting Oct. 30-31. Others, however, continued to predict that rates will go down.

Economic growth, which clocked in at a brisk 3.8 percent pace in the spring, is thought to have slowed to a subpar pace of under 3 percent in the just ended July-to-September quarter. Some think that growth will be weaker in the final three months of this year.

Job growth has slowed. The economy created an average of 97,000 jobs a month during the third quarter. That was down from an average 126,000 a month in the second quarter and below an average of 142,000 in the first three months of this year.

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