US economy expected to show 1.35 million payrolls added in August as unemployment rate dips below 10%

In the Labor Department’s August jobs report, most economists expect to see that payrolls rose at a decelerating rate, following bigger spikes of improvement immediately following the economic nadir of this spring.

Here were the main metrics expected from the report, compared to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg:

  • Change in non-farm payrolls: +1.350 million expected, vs. +1.763 million in July

  • Unemployment rate: 9.8% expected, vs. 10.2% in July

  • Average hourly earnings, month over month: 0.0% expected, +0.2% in July

  • Average hourly earnings, year over year: 4.4% expected, 4.8% in July

  • Labor force participation rate: 61.8% expected, 61.4% in July

Even with another print above 1 million, the expected number of non-farm payrolls added in August would not come close to fully plugging the deficit created during the earlier months of the pandemic. In March and April, non-farm payrolls plunged 1.373 million and then by a record 20.787 million, respectively, in a testament to the devastating blow the virus dealt to the US economy. Payrolls in June had risen by a record 4.791 million, after a gain of 2.725 million in May.

“The August employment report should remain encouraging, showing the US labor market continuing to heal and remaining firmly on its recovery path. That said, the pace of hiring is slowing and the trajectory of the recovery going forward is heavily dependent on the coronavirus,” Sam Bullard, senior economist at Wells Fargo, said in a note Thursday.

“Thankfully coronavirus case growth has slowed in recent weeks, which if sustained will be a tailwind to the pace of hiring and overall economic growth,” he added. “However, the potential for new virus outbreaks this fall and winter are clearly a downside risk to the labor market outlook.”

Other economists pointed out that additional downside risks this fall include employer cautiousness around holiday hiring and educational hiring, given many schools have begun their sessions online rather than in-person. Payroll recovery in leisure and hospitality industries – some of the areas hardest hit by the pandemic’s first wave of layoffs and furloughs – has come quickly in recent months and is expected to continue to improve, but not yet bring the total amount of employment in these areas back to pre-pandemic levels.

The unemployment rate is expected to improve modestly to 9.8% in August, for the first reading below 10% since March. That said, an expected bump up in the labor force participation rate is likely to stifle further improvements in the unemployment rate, since more individuals would be counted as out of work but looking for employment. At the 61.8%, the expected August labor force participation rate will have improved by 1.6 percentage points from the pandemic-era low, but held at a level that would have been the worst since the 1970s before the pandemic struck.

Economists and officials have also now focused more closely on the Labor Department’s data on “permanent job losers,” or those who do not expect to be called back from temporary layoffs. In July’s payrolls report, the number of permanent job losers was virtually unchanged month over month at 2.9 million, holding stubbornly at that level even as other metrics in the jobs report improved.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 02: Movers wearing protective masks unload a truck as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on September 2, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)

“The duration of unemployment acts as an additional headwind to a robust jobs recovery, even as the number of unemployed workers decreases,” said John Leer, economist at data intelligence company Morning Consult. “History has shown that it becomes increasingly difficult for unemployed workers to find jobs the longer they remain unemployed, either because they lose the skills they need to compete, or due to the stigma of long-term unemployment.”

Concerns that a sizable portion of the working age population could be out of work for the long-term in the wake of the pandemic have not been lost on policymakers. Federal Reserve officials on Wednesday highlighted in their September Beige Book, “Employment increased overall among Districts, with gains in manufacturing cited most often,” in the period up until August 24. However, they added that “some Districts also reported slowing job growth and increased hiring volatility, particularly in service industries, with rising instances of furloughed workers being laid off permanently as demand remained soft.”

Ahead of the August jobs report, other data on the state of the US labor market in late summer came in mixed. ADP’s report out Wednesday on private payrolls showed 428,000 jobs were added in August, sharply missing estimates for 1 million. The report, however, has consistently undershot the results of the Department of Labor’s jobs release especially during the pandemic.

Elsewhere, the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing and service sector employment indices showed further improvements in August from earlier this summer, but each still held in contractionary territory. And leading up to the jobs report survey week in mid-August, the Labor Department’s report on weekly jobless claims showed an improvement in the number of new unemployment claims filed relative to July.

This post will be updated with the results of the August jobs report Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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