United States jobless rate falls to 49-year low

Workers at a construction site in Revere

Last month, average hourly pay increased 2.8 percent from a year earlier, one tick below the year-over-year gain in August.

The US and China had already imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of each other's goods.

Still, should the tariffs remain fully in effect a year from now, roughly 300,000 jobs could be lost by then, according to estimates by Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. As more slack is squeezed out of the labour market, economists expect annual wage growth to hit 3 percent.

Despite the similar unemployment rates, today's economy is vastly different from that of 1969.

If the rate keeps dropping, it will heighten two concerns: Has the economy soaked up almost all the people who want or are able to work?

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The labor market, which is viewed as being near or at full employment, is steadily boosting wage growth, which could help to support consumer spending as the stimulus from the Trump administration's $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades. That should keep the Federal Reserve on its present path of continuing to lift short-term interest rates, including another 0.25 percentage point increase widely anticipated in December.

The unemployment rate leaves out workers who haven't sought a job in the past four weeks.

Geography, the skills gap, the opioid epidemic, more people going to college and a lack of family leave policies aimed at encouraging women to enter the labor force could all be contributing to the low rate. At the same time, other demographic factors also lower the wage total, as higher-paid older workers retire.

USA construction companies hired 23,000 more workers last month after increasing payrolls by 26,000 jobs in August.

However, the number of jobs added was only 134,000, down from 270,000 in August. "If unemployment is low, it means more people are working". An Institute for Supply Management survey published this week showed robust employment gains in the services sector in September. Amazon, America's second-largest employer, announced it was increasing its starting pay to $15 an hour in November for full-time and temporary employees, another sign wages might move up in the coming months.

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Still, higher inflation is offsetting much of the wage gain.

"It's still relatively slow, but it's building", Chamberlain says, expressing confidence that the Labor Department's hourly earnings measure will break the 3 percent threshold soon.

The Labour Department said it was possible that Hurricane Florence, which lashed South and North Carolina in mid-September, could have affected employment in some industries. In particular, hiring might have been constrained in construction and restaurants because the storm likely closed construction work sites and restaurants.

"The weaker gain in payrolls in September may partly reflect some hit from Hurricane Florence", said Michael Pearce, senior USA economist at Capital Economics in NY.

The rate remained unchanged in September at 62.7 percent of eligible workers in the workforce, down from a pre-recession rate of 66 percent.

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