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National News

August 3, 2013

Mixed signals in labor report


That helps explain why the average work week in the private sector fell a notch last month to 34.4 hours and average hourly earnings edged down 2 cents to $23.98 after a 10-cent jump in June. In the past 12 months, hourly earnings have risen 1.9 percent, slightly better than the rate of inflation.

There also have been increasing job gains this year in some higher-paying professional services such as management consulting and financial activities.

What has been missing are many jobs in solidly middle-income industries, including construction and manufacturing, which combined to net no new jobs in the past three months.

“We’re definitely not producing middle-class jobs at anywhere near the pace of high-tech or low-paying services,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto, Calif.

On the whole, however, the employment picture nationally isn’t too bad, Levy said, when you consider how sluggish economic growth has been.

“We’re in this slow recovery,” he said, noting the federal spending cuts under the sequester, a gridlocked Congress and a soft world economy. “The job number is pretty good given the context.”

The government reported this week that the economy barely grew in the fourth quarter of last year and expanded just 1.1 percent in the first quarter. Economic growth picked up in the second quarter to an annualized rate of 1.7 percent, still a lackluster rate.

Analysts expect the momentum to build in the second half of this year as the drag from the sequester fades and the economy benefits from a recovering housing market and rising stock prices.

But it remains to be seen whether the pace of job growth will rise or remain near July’s disappointing level. Recent reports suggest that manufacturing orders are rising, and construction hiring may have been restrained by the rainy weather.

Jim Puzzanghera of the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report from Washington.

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