Unemployment rate changes little in August

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Employers added 169,000 jobs in August, causing the unemployment rate to edge down to 7.3 percent from 7.4 percent in July, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Growth occurred in retail trade and health care, but information jobs declined. In manufacturing, productivity increased 1.9 percent and unit labor costs increased 2.3 percent.

Weekly applications for unemployment benefits are just 1,000 above a five-year low that was reached last month, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined by 3,000, to 328,500. That’s the lowest point since October 2007, according to the Associated Press.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, which compiles a monthly jobs report for the payroll company ADP, told the Associated Press that job growth has been “remarkably consistent” in recent months, with gains across a broad swath of industries and businesses. Zandi noted that the increases came despite significant federal spending cuts and the rollout of health care requirements for businesses.

Federal Reserve policymakers will scrutinize the employment report at a Sept. 17-18 meeting. They had been widely expected to make an announcement on the future of the Fed’s $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program at that meeting, according to a Reuters report.

Congress must agree on at least a short-term spending plan by October or risk shutting down the federal government. In addition, the nation may not be able to pay all of its bills unless lawmakers agree to raise the debt ceiling before a mid-October deadline. Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner has promised a “whale of a fight” and is likely to seek changes to President Obama’s signature health care law in exchange for cooperation on the debt limit.

Overshadowing those debates is the possibility of a U.S. attack on Syria and tumult in the Middle East. Crude oil prices jumped to an 18-month high in late August, but they have since moderated. The price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil for customers needing delivery in October rose about 1 percent Thursday, to $108.35 a barrel.

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