WASHINGTON — The nation's unemployment rate held steady in August at 6%, the Labor Department said today, the lowest point in nearly eight years but still high by historic standards for this far into an economic expansion.
At the same time, the percentage of population in the labor force hit a new high.
The government said its monthly survey of households showed 113.08 million people working, up 354,000 from July, and the number of people out of work and looking for a job down by 3,000 to total 7.22 million.
The number of people who had left the labor force dropped a seasonally adjusted 233,000, most of them teen-agers heading back to school, the government said. As a result, the proportion of the population that was employed in August rose 0.2 percentage point to a record 61.8%.
State's Rate Drops
California's jobless rate dropped slightly in August, falling to 5.4% from July's rate of 5.5%, the department said.
Over the last 15 months, the national jobless rate has gradually edged its way down from 7.2% without a single blip upward. The last time the unemployment rate was lower was in November, 1979, when it stood at 5.9%.
In the last year, the economy has created nearly 2.5 million new jobs, 155,000 in August alone, according to a separate survey of private and public payrolls.
Labor Statistics Commissioner Janet L. Norwood said the data for August marks the 57th month of the current economic recovery, one of the longest peacetime expansions in history.
14 Million New Jobs
"During this period--from November, 1982--close to 14 million jobs have been added, most of them in service-producing industries," Norwood told the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.
Service-producing sectors continued that trend in August, accounting for virtually all the 155,000 new jobs last month.
The largest portion of them were in business and health services, up 90,000 from July, and in finance, insurance and real estate, up 25,000. Employment in retail trade dropped by 23,000 in August, the first decrease of this year.
Manufacturing jobs also dropped off, by 5,000, ending a six-month trend of steady growth.
About 1 million factory workers have returned to assembly lines since the depth of the recession, but manufacturing "has still only regained about 45% of the jobs lost during 1981 and 1982," Norwood said.
Some Industries Up
She said five manufacturing industries--lumber, furniture, transportation equipment, publishing, and rubber and plastics--now employ considerably more workers than at the pre-recession peak in July, 1981.
"But eight industries--metals, non-electrical machinery, instruments, tobacco, apparel, chemicals, leather manufacturing and petroleum and coal--actually have lost employment since the end of the recession," she said.
Auto industry employment rose by 20,000 in August after declining by 30,000 the previous month on a seasonally adjusted basis that takes into account changeovers in the model year.
But the gains were offset by a similar loss of 20,000 jobs in clothing and textile plants--a return to the June level.