Reporting from Washington — The nation's jobless rate worsened slightly last month, edging up to 9.6% from 9.5% in July, the government said Friday in a report that had little for workers to cheer about this Labor Day weekend.
Overall, the American economy lost 54,000 net jobs in August as another 114,000 temporary census workers were dismissed from the federal government's payrolls. Aside from the staffing changes at the Census Bureau, which has been trimming jobs added earlier in the year for the decennial population count, private-sector employers added a modest 67,000 jobs over the month.
The nation's manufacturers, which had been growing all year and leading the weak jobs recovery, fell back in August, cutting 27,000 from their payrolls. Budget-strapped state governments shed another 14,000 jobs.
The healthcare sector added 28,000 jobs in August, and construction employment was up 19,000, although about half of that was due to the return of workers on strike in July. The temporary-help industry, considered a precursor to broader hiring, also rebounded, increasing staffing by 17,000 last month.
The Labor Department also revised up the private-sector hiring in June and July, saying businesses added 168,000 in those two months instead of 102,000 estimated earlier. Even so, by any measure, those numbers are small and not nearly enough to begin to bring down the unemployment rate, which is expected to climb in the coming months.
Nearly 15 million workers were counted as jobless last month. Including people too discouraged to look for work and the nearly 9 million workers who have little choice but to work part-time, the rate of the nation's unemployed and underemployed stood at 16.7% last month, up from 16.5% in July.
"The small amount of job gains during the past few months not only reflects the response to slow output growth, but also a lack of confidence going forward," said Bart van Ark, chief economist at the Conference Board, a business research group based in New York. "The economy as a whole has been weakened by a dismal housing market and slow consumption, which especially hamper small- and medium-sized enterprises."
William Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business, said that his group's monthly survey of small employers showed that most firms made little change to employment in August. He said 11% of the respondents reported that they had increased employment by an average of 2.3 employees, but 13% reduced their workforces by an average of 3.5 workers.
"Job creation still has not crossed the zero line in the small-business sector," he said.