US adds 136,000 jobs; unemployment hits 50-year low of 3.5%

US hiring has averaged 157,000 in the past three months, enough to absorb new job seekers and lower unemployment over time. (AFP)
Updated 04 October 2019

US adds 136,000 jobs; unemployment hits 50-year low of 3.5%

  • Hiring has slowed this year as the US-China trade war has intensified
  • With the US economic expansion in its 11th year and unemployment low, many businesses have struggled to find the workers they need

WASHINGTON: US employers added a modest 136,000 jobs in September, enough to help lower the unemployment rate to a new five-decade low of 3.5 percent.
Hiring has slowed this year as the US-China trade war has intensified, global growth has slowed and businesses have cut back on their investment spending. Even so, hiring has averaged 157,000 in the past three months, enough to absorb new job seekers and lower unemployment over time.
Despite the ultra-low unemployment rate, which dropped from 3.7 percent in August, average hourly wages slipped by a penny, the Labor Department said Friday in its monthly jobs report. Hourly pay rose just 2.9 percent from a year earlier, below the 3.4 percent year-over-year gain at the beginning of the year.
The unemployment rate for Latinos fell to 3.9 percent, the lowest on records dating from 1973.
With the US economic expansion in its 11th year and unemployment low, many businesses have struggled to find the workers they need. That is likely one reason why hiring has slowed since last year.
But it’s likely not the only reason. The jobs figures carry more weight than usual because worries about the health of the US economy are mounting. Manufacturers have essentially fallen into recession as US businesses have cut spending on industrial machinery, computers and other factory goods. And overseas demand for US exports has fallen sharply as President Donald Trump’s trade conflicts with China and Europe have triggered retaliatory tariffs.
A measure of factory activity fell in September to its lowest level in more than a decade. And new orders for manufactured items slipped last month, the government reported.
Persistent uncertainties about the economy in the face of Trump’s trade conflicts and a global economic slump are also affecting hotels, restaurants and other service industries. A trade group’s measure of growth in the economy’s vast services sector slowed sharply in September to its lowest point in three years, suggesting that the trade conflicts and rising uncertainty are weakening the bulk of the economy.
The job market is the economy’s main bulwark. As long as hiring is solid enough to keep the unemployment rate from rising, most Americans will likely remain confident enough to spend, offsetting other drags and propelling the economy forward.
But a slump in hiring or a rise in the unemployment rate in coming months could discourage consumers from spending as freely as they otherwise might during the holiday shopping season.
Consumers are still mostly optimistic, and their spending has kept the economy afloat this year. But they may be growing more cautious. Consumer confidence dropped sharply in September, according to the Conference Board, a business research group, although it remains at a high level.
Americans also reined in their spending in August after several months of healthy gains. The 0.1 percent increase in consumer spending that month was the weakest in six months.
Other parts of the US economy are still holding up well. Home sales, for example, have rebounded as mortgage rates have fallen, helped in part by the Federal Reserve’s two interest rate cuts this year. Sales of existing homes reached their highest level in nearly 18 months in August. And new home sales soared.
Americans are also buying cars at a still-healthy pace. Consumers would typically be reluctant to make such major purchases if they were fearful of a downturn.


Leaders descend on Beijing for Bloomberg problem-solving forum

Updated 21 November 2019

Leaders descend on Beijing for Bloomberg problem-solving forum

  • The two-day event aims to encourage solutions from the private sector to some of the big challenges the global economy faces today
  • Some 500 senior leaders will attend the gathering, of which about 200 will come from Chinese institutions

Thought leaders from the business world and the global political scene are descending on the Chinese capital Beijing for the New Economy Forum (NEF) run by the information and media giant Bloomberg.

The two-day event aims to encourage solutions from the private sector to some of the big challenges the global economy faces today — trade, climate change, technology and financial volatility. It will also prioritize issues of inclusion, urbanization and governance.

Justin Smith, chief executive officer of Bloomberg Media, told Arab News — which is a media partner for the event — that some 500 delegates would attend the forum, with about 200 coming from institutions within China.

“The reason we’re bringing people together is to produce a platform for discussion between people who represent the new global economy. There is a whole new class of people from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America who are not represented well in the ‘legacy gatherings’ that take place, which are typically more American and European oriented.

“The idea is to enable people at a principle level — chief executives, ministers, leaders — to have substantive conversations to find solutions to global problems and help mitigate the big issues the world faces. This is not just a talking shop,” he said.

Some 500 senior leaders will attend the gathering, of which about 200 will come from Chinese institutions. “There will be a big Chinese involvement, but this is because of how important China is in the global economy. This really is a one-of-a-kind gathering,” Smith said.

The opening keynote will be delivered by a senior member of the leadership of the Peoples Republic, whose identity has not been officially disclosed amid tight security at the conference venue outside Beijing city center.

While the issue of trade wars between China and the US will be a big issue at the gathering, Smith said that it was not the most important one. “This is not a US-China gathering — it is a global gathering located in Beijing,” he said.

Americans attending the event include former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, as well as Hank Paulson, who was Treasury secretary during the global financial crisis, and Janet Yellen, former chair of the US Federal Reserve.

There is a significant delegation from the Middle East, including Saudi business leader Lubna Olayan, as well as executives and policy-makers from other Arabian Gulf countries.

“The Middle East’s role in the new economy is critical. It has increasingly deep ties with China, but also has strong links with Europe and the West. They are in between western capitalism and state capitalism,” Smith said.