Less than 10 weeks before Election Day, there are two main stories about how the U.S. job market is doing, one positive and one negative. The positive story (mostly told by Democrats) holds that the job market, like the economy as a whole, is in basically solid shape. Job growth has been steady and occasionally outright strong. Unemployment is down. Wages are rising, albeit not as quickly as workers would like.
The negative story (told by Republicans) takes the same evidence and offers a different spin: Hiring has been consistent but much too slow to dig out of the hole left by the Great Recession. Unemployment is low only because so many people have given up looking for work. Wage growth is too weak to mean much for the many Americans struggling to make ends meet.
Friday’s jobs report, the third-to-last before voters head to the polls in November, offered evidence for both sides. Employers added 151,000 jobs in August, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported; that’s the weakest growth since May, and a bit below economists’ expectations, but still not a bad number in absolute terms. The unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent for the third month in a row; hourly earnings rose modestly. The rest of the report fit the same basic pattern: a bit disappointing compared to June and July, but not bad overall.
Politically, the report was probably pretty much a wash. Hillary Clinton can keep pointing to the steady improvement in the economy under President Obama; Donald Trump can keep saying that improvement has been much slower than it should have been. Our “polls-plus” election forecast has generally considered the economy neutral …