RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We got some sobering news today about the U.S. job market. Employers added just 75,000 jobs last month, which is well below analysts' expectations. And it's a significant slowdown from the two previous months. Wage growth also slowed a bit while the unemployment rate held steady at a low 3.6%. NPR economics correspondent Scott Horsley is in the studio to talk about these numbers.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: Seems like not that long ago, you were right here in that same seat, probably talking about a blockbuster jobs number. So what happened?
HORSLEY: A lot of people are going to be pointing to the ongoing trade war, Rachel. May is the month when President Trump ratcheted up his trade battle with China, boosting tariffs on some $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. Now, of course, we have the possibility of a new front in the trade war with Mexico. And all of this creates some uncertainty for business people, who are trying to make plans, trying to make investments, trying to make hiring decisions. Manufacturing, which is especially trade-sensitive, has seen slow job growth for a number of months now. And that continued in May, when we added just 3,000 factory jobs. Tim Quinlan, who is a senior economist at Wells Fargo, says that's consistent with some of the other indicators we've seen this week of a slowdown in the manufacturing sector.
TIM QUINLAN: There's increasing evidence that the ongoing trade war here is beginning to have some tangible effects on the U.S. economy.
HORSLEY: And we're also seeing a general slowdown in the much larger services sector. Private employers added just 82,000 service jobs last month. That's less than half the number they added the month before. And, Rachel, the Labor Department revised its job growth figures for March and April, down by a combined 75,000 jobs. So all around, this is a pretty weak employment report.
MARTIN: Unemployment, though, is still near a 50-year low, so does that mean that workers can expect pay raises?
HORSLEY: Wages are still going up, although not quite so fast as they had been. For the year ending last month, wage gains averaged 3.1%. That's down just a tick from the 3.2% figure we saw in April. One thing to keep in mind - part of the reason the unemployment rate is so low - near this 50-year low - is that a lot of people dropped out of the labor market in March and April. We saw labor force participation fall in those months by four-tenths of a percentage point, which is pretty significant.
In May, the participation rate held steady, but we still have less than 63% of eligible workers actually working or looking for work. That's pretty low by historical standards. And so long as there's this sort of untapped army of people who are not working but could be, we may not see a lot more upward pressure on wages.
MARTIN: How's this going to affect interest rates set by the Fed?
HORSLEY: Well, the Federal Reserve's rate setting committee is set to meet less than two weeks, and this is going to raise the pressure on the Fed to cut interest rates - maybe not this month but sooner rather than later. The stock market is clearly anticipating a rate cut sometime in the near future, and that's contributed to the big rally we've seen on Wall Street this week.
MARTIN: NPR chief economic correspondent Scott Horsley for us.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
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