âThe payroll number is well above expectations,â said Jim OâSullivan, chief United States economist for High Frequency Economics. âBut the wage numbers are certainly weaker than expected, so it keeps alive the whole debate about the relationship between slack and inflation and how far the Federal Reserve should allow the unemployment rate to fall.â
A broader measure of unemployment, including discouraged workers and those who are working part time but prefer full-time work, inched up to 8.6 percent in June from 8.4 percent in May. Still, that figure is a point lower than it was this time last year.
âItâs pretty clear that the trend in employment growth is strong enough to keep the unemployment rate trending down,â Mr. OâSullivan said.
Diane Swonk, founder of DS Economics in Chicago, said the increase in professional jobs reflected hiring of new graduates. âFinally the millennials are getting more jobs,â she said.
Hiring in the service sector was also strong. The retail, manufacturing and construction sectors were weak, Ms. Swonk added, but the âeconomy looks strong enough to absorb these workers elsewhere.â
June marks the eighth anniversary of the recessionâs end, when the economy hit bottom, with employers shedding hundreds of thousands of workers and the jobless rate more than double what it is today.
President Trump got ahead of the Labor Departmentâs release and started off the week with boasts on Twitter about the economyâs impressive performance.
He followed up with another tweet the next day.
As a candidate, Mr. Trump repeatedly rejected the governmentâs monthly estimates as phony. Now in the Oval Office, he has embraced those same reports as evidence of his administrationâs success.
As he noted, the jobless rate has gone down this year, from 4.8 percent in January. Economists agree that at least some decline is natural after eight years of expansion in the monthly averages, although June exceeded those expectations. About 100,000 new jobs are needed to keep up with growth in the population. Anything beyond that will further chip away at the jobless rate or bolster the size of the labor force as workers who dropped out are lured back.
The Search for Workers
Corporations and small establishments across sectors complain that they cannot find enough people to hire. Still, wage growth has disappointed.
âThis is not a market we have typically seen,â said Michael Stull, senior vice president at the staffing company Manpower North America. âWe have not before seen unemployment drop, low participation rates and wages not move. That tells you somethingâs not right in the labor market.â
The question is what.
Mr. Stull said employers were aware of the shrinking pool of workers and were rethinking traditional qualifications like length of experience. âEmployers will take on hard-working, reliable workers even if they donât have an opening,â he said.
At the same time, workers âare pushing back a little bit about driving an hour for a $10-an-hour job at a distribution center on the outer rim of the city,â he said. âYou need a car for that, and you canât have a car on $10 an hour.â
Thatâs a familiar problem to Tom Thompson, owner of Star Cleaning Systems in Columbus, Ohio. He is looking to add two or three part-time workers to his 20-member staff. As Mr. Thompson said, âIf you donât have a car in suburban America, you canât work.â
At the same time, âvery few people show up for interviews, and if they do, they donât show up for the job,â he said. âIâm spending 80 to 90 percent of my time recruiting. I triple-book appointments for interviews, and Iâm lucky if I get one person to show up.â He is offering $9.25 an hour to start, with bonuses and increases for workers who stick around. As the owner of a new company, he said, he cannot afford to pay significantly more.
Nearby distribution centers for big companies like Amazon are sucking up most of the available labor, Mr. Thompson said. âI sometimes wish there was actually a higher unemployment rate,â he said.
Like Star Cleaning, Rooforia Home Exteriors in Omaha often finds customers through Thumbtack, an online marketplace for hiring people to complete tasks. These days itâs the workers who are tougher to find.
âWe did everything we could to recruit people and had not one application,â Rooforiaâs owner, Sarah M. Smith, said.
She is depending on guest-worker visas to fill openings for the season, which runs from the spring through November.
âItâs hard work in Nebraska,â Ms. Smith said, âWe have hot summers, and youâre on a black asphalt roof.â
At $17 an hour, she said, âthe pay is fair.â
Ms. Smith said she had asked herself why it was so difficult to find American residents to fill jobs that do not require any specialized training.
âWe had one person we recruited; he didnât even show up the next day,â she said.
âWe get a lot of people saying the visa program is taking jobs away from Americans,â Ms. Smith added, âbut in reality, theyâre not taking the jobs because there is no one even willing to do the jobs.â
Economists assume that an increased demand for labor should drive up wages, but that supposedly ironclad link is turning out to be much more elastic. Hourly wage growth has plodded along at an annual rate of roughly 2.5 percent in recent months, but even that number is misleading, because most of the gains have gone to more highly skilled workers, said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.
âFifty to 60 percent of lower-tier wage earners are earning less and less year over year,â Mr. Frick said. He dismissed concerns about inflation articulated by some members of the Federal Reserve, arguing that there is little evidence to show that the economy is heating up and that interest rate increases are needed.
âIf the Fed starts tightening, then youâll squeeze off wage increases that havenât happened yet,â he said.
Matching willing employees to jobs takes time, Mr. Frick said, because unlike some European countries, the United States lacks an infrastructure for training and development that could funnel, say, would-be welders into a training program and then a job.
Patrick Bass, chief executive of Thyssenkrupp North America, part of a German multinational conglomerate, said his company had been increasingly relying on methods common in Germany like apprenticeships, partnerships with colleges, and internships. In their plants in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, even less-skilled jobs can take as long as three months to fill, he said, while technical and engineering positions can take six months.
âWeâre willing to invest in the people and bring them in and train them,â Mr. Bass said. âBut for the basic skill job, weâre seeing a higher turnover rate than normal. People are job shopping a bit, because they can. Theyâre trying different things to see what they like.â
Martha Ross, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution who has studied the jobless data in depth, said official statistics offered a sky-high perspective, while hiring was local.
âEven in an era of low national unemployment, with recent jobs reports showing the national unemployment rate ticking down close to 4 percent, jobs are not always available and not everyone who wants work can find it,â she wrote on her blog. âThere is no one-size-fits-all approach to help people prepare for and find jobs.â
A slowdown in automobile sales this year, for example, has already prompted some automakers and dealers to pare their work forces after significant expansions.
The Washington Factor
Reviews of the economy tend to reflect political affiliations, with Republicans more optimistic since the election than Democrats. The data, however, points to a remarkably consistent story line in recent years: steady but slower-than-hoped-for progress that has tended to lift the fortunes of more highly skilled workers in urban centers and leave others behind.
âPayrolls are very volatile month-to-month, but in general, the so-called hard numbers have probably not changed all that much in the last year,â said Mr. OâSullivan of High Frequency Economics. The employment rate has been inching down, while economic growth over all has remained tepid.
As Mr. Stull, of Manpower North America, put it: âThe job market is like driving on a Friday afternoon in the summer. We keep moving forward but not nearly as fast as weâd like to.â
Much of Mr. Trumpâs pro-business agenda remains stalled in Congress. Although Republicans control the White House and both legislative chambers, they have so far been unable to agree on a final budget, a new health care plan, a tax overhaul or an infrastructure program.
âThis is an unprecedented level of political uncertainty,â said William E. Spriggs, chief economist for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. âThat is creating a drag on the economy.â
Mr. Spriggs noted, for example, that hiring in nursing care centers and medical labs has been dropping, which he argues is a reflection of the confusion surrounding proposed changes to the health care system.
There is a ripple effect. Juanita Duggan, chief executive of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said, âSmall-business owners seem to be in a holding pattern while they wait to see what Congress will do with taxes and health care.â