By James Greiff
In almost any context, the number 0 looks bad. That's particularly true when it refers to U.S. nonfarm payrolls, which the U.S. Labor Department today said were unchanged for the month of August. Economists had forecast an increase of 65,000, hardly a great number in itself. If there is any consolation to be found in the reading, it's that a strike by Verizon Communications Inc. workers accounted for 48,000 lost jobs.
The no-change reading adds to evidence that the U.S. economy, which was already showing signs of slowing, was knocked off balance by the mid-summer wrangling in Washington over raising the federal borrowing limit and the downgrade by Standard & Poor's of the U.S.'s AAA credit rating.
There were a slew of other bummer numbers in the report. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 9.1 percent. It was the fifth straight monthly reading higher than 9 percent. Economists figure the U.S. needs to add about 200,000 jobs a month to make a significant dent in unemployment.
Hiring by private employers was barely up, checking in at 17,000 compared with economists' forecasts of 95,000. The number of hours that employees spent on the job declined, as well. Those people who were working took home smaller paychecks.
President Barack Obama has scheduled a speech before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 8. and is expected to propose several measures to boost jobs. There's one other number he might have in mind when he speaks: His approval rating as of Aug. 31 stood at 44 percent, close to the lowest of his presidency, according to poll figures compiled by Realclearpolitics.com.
(James Greiff is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board)