US Labor Market Slumping, Even as Jobless Rate Falls

Posted September 7th, 2012 at 8:55 am (UTC-5)
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The slumping U.S. labor market added a meager 96,000 jobs last month, but the country's jobless rate declined as more Americans abandoned their search for work.

The government reported Friday that the August unemployment rate was 8.1 percent, down from the 8.3 percent figure in July. It was the 43rd straight month that the figure has been above an unusually high 8 percent level, as the country continues to struggle to recover from the depths of the recession in 2008 and 2009.

The relatively small number of the new jobs was down from the 141,000 increase in July that was smaller than initially estimated. The small number of new jobs could prompt the country's central bank policy makers to adopt new policies when then meet soon in an attempt to spur employment growth and trim the jobless rate. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has said the lack of job growth is one reason the central bank may need to act.

The state of the U.S. economy, the world's largest, is the central issue in the country's very close presidential election campaign, now less than nine weeks before the November 6 vote. The monthly jobs and unemployment numbers have played pivotal roles for Republican challenger Mitt Romney and the Democratic incumbent, President Barack Obama, in their competing claims about who can boost the sluggish recovery.

Romney says his years as a venture capitalist give him the experience needed to boost job growth at a substantially faster pace than Mr. Obama. Surveys of voters show they think he is better suited to handle the national economy.

But the surveys also show voters like the president more on a personal level. Mr. Obama is telling voters that his policies have created millions of new jobs, but that more time is needed to recover from the country's worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930's. No U.S. president has been re-elected since World War Two with a jobless rate above 7.4 percent.

More than 12 million U.S. workers are unemployed and the jobless rate has remained stubbornly above 8 percent since February 2009, Mr. Obama's first full month in office. The unemployment rate is unusually high for the U.S. labor market, where 5 to 6 percent is more normal. Millions more people are working part-time jobs or at jobs they consider beneath their skill level.