Job market shows signs of losing momentum. Here's what it means.

Hiring in October fell by half from a month prior.

November 3, 2023, 2:51 PM

A gangbusters job market showed pronounced signs of a slowdown last month, a government report on Friday showed. The fresh data elicited predictions from some economists that hiring could stall by the middle of next year.

The U.S. economy added 150,000 jobs in October, which amounts to solid growth but only half of the jobs gained during the previous month, the data showed.

Even placed within a wider context, the hiring gains marked a significant drop from the monthly average over the past year.

The unemployment rate last month clocked in at 3.9%, an increase of half a percentage point from a recent low in April. Since that month, an additional 850,000 people are out of work, the report found.

"The job market slowed meaningfully in October," Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, said in a statement on Friday, adding that the assessment was backed by "all of the key indicators."

The new data "explains why job seekers and new hires are feeling more stressed out than they have in over a year," Pollak noted. "Rising financial strain, paired with declining worker leverage, are taking their toll."

A slowdown in job growth took hold across wide swathes of the U.S. economy, including leisure and hospitality as well as professional and business services.

The apparent loss of momentum applies to the months preceding October, government data showed, noting a downward revision of the hiring estimates for August and September by more than 100,000 jobs.

Lydia Boussour, a senior economist at consulting firm EY, dubbed the job market's recent performance an "autumn chill."

The trend will extend beyond fall, Boussour said, predicting that the unemployment rate would jump to nearly 4.5% by the end of next year.

Preston Caldwell, chief U.S. economist at Morningstar, said he expects the 34-month streak of U.S. job growth to end by the middle of 2024.

The slowdown in hiring last month still amounts to robust job gains. Moreover, in some key sectors, such as health care and government, jobs added in October exceeded the average monthly gains over the past year.

In a statement on Friday, President Joe Biden touted the jobs report as evidence of continued economic expansion.

"Today’s report shows that Bidenomics is growing the economy from the middle out and bottom up -- not the top down," Biden said. "The economy has created 14 million jobs since I took office and 150,000 jobs in October."

Plus, the overall cooldown in October owes in part to a major auto workers' strike that remained active last month, accounting to more than 33,000 job losses reflected in the data released on Friday.

Some economists said it remains unclear whether the significant slowdown last month is a one-off blip or a wider trend.

"One tepid jobs report does not a trend make," Jason Schenker, president of research firm Prestige Economics, said in a statement.

Still, Schenker described the jobs report on Friday as "disappointing," saying that he expects "more weakness likely lies ahead."

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference following a Federal Open Market Committee meeting, at the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C., July 26, 2023.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

The jobs data arrives two days after the Federal Reserve opted to leave interest rates unchanged despite stubborn inflation that has fallen from a peak last summer but stalled in recent months at level well above the central bank's target.

Since last year, the Fed has raised its benchmark interest rate at the fastest pace in more than two decades, seeking to slash price hikes by slowing the economy and reducing consumer demand.

In theory, the economy should eventually falter as it becomes more expensive for businesses and consumers to borrow. But the economy has largely resisted a cooldown.

Gross domestic product data released last week showed that the U.S. economy expanded at a 4.9% annualized rate over three months ending in September. That breakneck pace more than doubled growth over the previous quarter and reinforced other recent indicators of sturdy performance.

Observers, however, point to a rapid rise in U.S. government bond yields over recent weeks as evidence that the Fed's rate hikes have elevated long-term borrowing costs for consumers seeking mortgage loans and corporations pursuing funds to expand their businesses.

Pollak, of ZipRecruiter, attributed the cooldown in hiring to the interest rate increases and the spike in borrowing expenses.

"The good news is that this slowdown is not due to economic fundamentals, but rather due to careful orchestration by the Fed," Pollak said. "If it turns out that the Fed and bond markets have gone too far, the Fed holds the keys to turning that around."

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