US hiring slows sharply, complicating Fed taper

President Biden blames coronavirus Delta variant surge for slowdown

US hiring downshifted abruptly in August with the smallest jobs gain in seven months, complicating a potential decision by the Federal Reserve to begin scaling back monetary support by the end of the year.

In a televised address on Friday, President Biden acknowledged the jobs report is not as strong as he had hoped for, but insisted the country's economy is "durable".

"What we're seeing is an economic recovery that is durable and strong," Mr Biden said.

Still, Mr Biden said, the US is not where it needs to be in its economic recovery.

He blamed the recent Delta variant surge for the slowdown and said the unvaccinated are "causing a lot of unease" in the US economy.

"There's no question the Delta variant is why today's job report isn't stronger," Mr Biden said before adding he would lay out steps in the next weeks to combat the variant.

In his address from the White House, Mr Biden once again pushed Congress to pass his infrastructure bill, noting the recent extreme weather events that have affected parts of the US.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 235,000 last month, trailing all forecasts, after an upwardly revised 1.05 million gain in July, a Labour Department report showed on Friday.

Employment in leisure and hospitality, which has posted strong gains recently, was flat amid the spreading Delta variant and persistent hiring challenges.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.2 per cent from 5.4 per cent. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists was for a 733,000 monthly advance in August.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note reversed an initial decline and stock-index futures fluctuated.

The deceleration in hiring probably reflects both growing fears about the rapidly spreading Delta variant of Covid-19 and difficulties filling vacant positions.

In August, 5.6 million people reported they were unable to work because of the pandemic, up from 5.2 million a month earlier, the Labour Department said.

The surge in infections, which has already curbed consumer activity and disrupted in-person schooling and return-to-office plans, may have led businesses to grow more cautious about hiring and dissuaded some workers from pursuing high-contact employment opportunities.

The latest figures have the potential to limit calls for the Fed to start tapping the brakes on its monetary stimulus. The report could also bolster Mr Biden’s push for trillions of dollars in long-term social spending, after Joe Manchin, a pivotal Democratic West Virginia senator, this week demanded a “strategic pause” on the plan.

While Delta has disrupted the labour market recovery, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell emphasised in his August 27 speech that “the prospects are good for continued progress towards maximum employment".

Attracting and retaining employees has been a huge challenge for businesses such as restaurants, retailers, manufacturers and builders.

As a result, companies like Amazon have raised wages and offered one-time bonuses to attract candidates.

The report comes right before the September 6 official end of the supplemental pandemic unemployment insurance programmes.

Roughly half of US states ended the benefits early in an attempt to assuage worker shortages. Labour market data from individual states have shown little indication the actions have materially boosted employment so far, but some companies have attributed increases in applications to the expiration of those benefits.

Updated: September 3rd 2021, 3:41 PM
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