The Labor Department on Friday reported a net loss of 131,000 jobs in July, an improvement from the revised loss of 221,000 jobs in June.
The loss was due mostly to the end of 143,000 temporary census jobs in the month, but hiring by businesses was also weak, as those employers added only 71,000 jobs in July.
Businesses have now added jobs in every month so far this year, a total of 630,000 positions. But that works out to an anemic 90,000 a month. There needs to be an overall gain of about 150,000 jobs per month just to keep pace with population growth.
And private sector job growth seems to be losing ground. The modest gain of 71,000 jobs in business hiring was up from even weaker revised readings for May and June, but was still well below the nearly 200,000 monthly gains in March and April, when the labor market appeared set to turn the corner.
The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.5% in June. Economists had expected the jobless rate to edge up to 9.6%. But that was mostly because of 381,000 workers who stopped looking for work in recent weeks, and were therefore no longer counted as part of the labor force.
That jump in discouraged workers may have been partly due to the loss of extended unemployment benefits for many jobless during the month. Without the incentive of having to look for work to collect benefits, many workers simply gave up looking.
The percentage of the population with jobs fell for the third straight month to 58.4% and is now approaching the 26-year low in that reading reached in December.
There was some good news buried in the report, at least for those with jobs. The average hourly work week increased 0.1 hours to 33.5, suggesting that workers who had their hours reduced were being called back to work full time. The number of part-time workers who would prefer to work full time fell by 98,000 to 8.5 million.