American employers added just 96,000 jobs in August, the Labor Department reported Friday. The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent as the economy slogged along for the 43rd month in a row with joblessness above 8 percent.
Economists had expected an addition of 125,000 total nonfarm jobs in August, and the unemployment rate to be unchanged at 8.3 percent. The unemployment rate declined in August by two-tenths of a percent because more people left the labor force.
"Some workers who have exhausted their unemployment benefits or remained jobless for a more than half a year gave up their search for work and dropped out of the workforce," said Brookings Senior Fellow in Economic Studies Gary Burtless.
Peter Morici, economist and professor at the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business, said the jobs added were "not nearly enough to keep pace with population growth."
In a newsletter, Morici said the jobs lost in manufacturing and temporary help raise "concerns that the recovery is sputtering and a recession is eminent."
He said the report "will likely spur the Federal Reserve to take additional measures to lower interest rates but with interest rates at record lows, such action will have limited positive effects."
The report fuels fire for Republicans who criticize President Obama's leadership during the economic recovery.
Bobbi Moss, senior vice president and general manager of recruitment firm Govig & Associates in Scottsdale, Ariz., an affiliate of the MRINetwork, called the report "disappointing" and "surprising to see in light of the activity, energy and results we are experiencing."
Moss said the types of jobs added were what she had expected - those in the professional, technical and health fields.
However, the business sector for which Moss does not recruit, auto manufacturing, saw a decline of 8,000 jobs. Total manufacturing employment fell in August by 15,000 jobs.
The government also revised the number of jobs added in June and July, reducing the total by 41,000. Even more discouraging was the news today that 400,000 people gave up looking for work in August.
In May and June, new jobless claims had been higher than earlier in the year as well.
The November presidential election has focused on the economy, which is undergoing its worst stretch of high joblessness since 1948.
GOP candidate Mitt Romney has been vilified by the Democrats for supposedly shipping jobs overseas as CEO of Bain Capital more than a decade ago. But foreign-based companies also ship jobs into the US--about 5 million Americans are employed here by foreign companies.
Bill Krueger, vice chairman of Nissan Americas, said the company is less interested in the election's outcome and more interested in whether the U.S. will encourage engineering and manufacturing training for potential workers.
Nissan, based in Japan, employs 17,000 people in the U.S. at its three U.S. sites. The company is adding about 2,200 manufacturing jobs U.S., including 1,000 jobs to its Canton Vehicle Assembly Plant in Mississippi.
Nancy McLernon, CEO of the Organization for International Investment, which represents about 200 U.S. subsidiaries of global companies, said the members of her organization are studying the statements of the presidential candidates for signs they are "embracing the global economy."
"Globally engaged companies want to be in globally engaged countries," said McLernon. "The extent to which lawmakers understand global marketplace is helpful. Isolationist views are not."
Business has been good for automakers like Nissan in the U.S. The automaker's August sales rose 7.6 percent from a year ago, the company reported Tuesday.
But finding skilled workers has been a trouble spot for the company.
"If there's a weak point right now, it's the availability of skilled maintenance workers and engineers," Krueger said.
Manufacturing jobs are slowly making a comeback after the long economic downturn that began with the financial crisis in December 2007.
In July, the U.S. economy added 25,000 manufacturing jobs.
Still, before the report was released, Moss had said the job market is a "candidate's market" for a subset of skilled workers who are able to find greater opportunities compared to a year ago.
"I am extremely optimistic with what we have seen over the last number of months and we're continuing to be very optimistic," she said.
The markets that are particularly fertile are business and professional services, manufacturing and construction.
"We're definitely seeing a good bit of activity in the construction arena which is great to see," she said.
Moss said she has to educate employers that the jobs market is heating up and they may have to pounce on qualified candidates sooner than they are accustomed.
One financial company in southwest Texas had interviewed one senior financial manager twice but was not ready to hire her. Moss said the company let five days pass and the candidate had already had two competing offers.
"Most employers believe unemployment is high and there are candidates out there hanging from trees and that is just not the case," she said.