Good News in Jobs Report Is What Didn't Happen

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Any way you slice it, the U.S. labor market is flatlining. That's about the only conclusion one could draw from the increase of 148,000 in September nonfarm payrolls and supporting data.

Even less inspiring is the Bureau of Labor Statistics's revision to the July employment figure -- just 89,000.

As for today's employment report for September, the positives were mostly negative:

  • The labor force DIDN'T contract last month;
  • The labor force participation rate DIDN'T fall further, matching August's 35-year low;
  • The employment-population ratio DIDN'T fall;
  • The average workweek DIDN'T fall;
  • The net revisions to July and August (+9,000) WEREN'T negative;.
  • The number of part-time workers DIDN'T rise.

Private payrolls rose 126,000 last month, below the 12-month average of 185,000. Construction jobs increased by 20,000. The addition of 2,000 manufacturing jobs represented only the second monthly increase since August. The unemployment rate fell 0.1 percentage point to 7.2 percent, the lowest since November 2008.

The other details of the report -- wages, hours -- complete what is a pretty sad report card on the U.S. labor market. If the magnitude of the dive in consumer confidence in response to the government shutdown translates into reduced spending and hiring, you can write off any near-term change in Federal Reserve policy on asset purchases. The data over the next couple of months will be distorted by the shutdown and therefore aren't actionable.

Note to Fed: Long-term Treasuries, which ignored all your assurances and guidance, are rallying on the bad-news-is-good-news report.

Bottom line: If the Fed is waiting for an improvement in the outlook for the labor market before pulling the cord, it has a lot more watching and waiting to do.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.