October jobs report shows hiring bounces back

Last Updated Nov 3, 2017 10:59 AM EDT

U.S. businesses hired robustly in October, partly reversing the depressed hiring in September thanks to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Some 261,000 jobs were added and the unemployment rate ticked down to 4.1 percent. That's less than the approximately 300,000 economists had been expecting -- and indicates the recovery from the hurricanes is happening slower than predicted. The labor participation rate also dropped to 62.7 percent, from 63.1 percent.

October's burst of hiring mostly reflects a rebound from the hurricanes that temporarily depressed job gains in September. But it also shows that for all their fury, the storms did not knock the economy off course. Over the past three months, hiring has averaged 162,000 per month. That is similar to the pace of hiring before the hurricanes. 

Figures for September were revised to show a gain of 18,000 jobs after the initial estimate showed a loss.

jobs-added.png
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Most businesses shuttered by the storms have since reopened, and the rebuilding efforts are contributing to hiring in hard-hit areas of the country, mostly for short-term jobs. 

"We're seeing a lot of participants in our programs taking shorter-term roles outside their normal expertise because there are opportunities available," said Lindsay Witcher, a senior director at RiseSmart, a career placement service. "Independent insurance adjusters working in the reconstruction field and in environmental testing and remediation ... there is an influx of those jobs."

The value of the dollar has slid since earlier this year, a move that makes U.S. goods less expensive overseas. Those trends are lifting U.S. exports and boosting the profits of American multinational corporations.

Americans are also sounding more optimistic about the economic outlook, which could prompt more people to open their wallets in the coming months. Consumer confidence reached its highest level in nearly 17 years in October, according to the Conference Board.

Auto sales have also jumped since the hurricanes as people replace damaged and destroyed cars. Replacement auto sales helped lift overall consumer spending by the most in eight years in September. Still, that is likely to be a temporary economic boost.

The economy expanded at a 3 percent annual rate in the July-to-September quarter, after a 3.1 percent gain in the second quarter. That was the best six-month showing in three years.

But Friday's report showed hourly earnings little changed, rising in October at a 2.4 percent yearly rate -- just slightly higher than inflation. That's despite workers' productivity increasing this quarter at its fastest rate in three years.

"If we look at the unemployment rate alone, we are missing the full picture," said Elise Gould, senior economist at the worker-focused Economic Policy Institute. "The prime-age employment-to-population ratio is still far below levels expected in a stronger economy. Furthermore, nominal wage growth continues to lag behind target levels... All told, it's clear that we are still not at full employment, and the Federal Reserve should keep interest rates low until we are."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.