Striking the Balance: Latest Jobs Report Key Takeaways

September 18, 2023
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The August Jobs Report, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this month, reveals a labor market in transition. Looking at the broader context, the jobs report paints a picture of a labor market that is striking an optimal balance. It’s strong enough to keep the unemployment rate below 4%, assuaging recession fears, but not so strong to trigger inflation concerns. In this article, we’ll discuss the key takeaways from this latest jobs report.

Key Numbers

Let’s start by digging deeper into the numbers. The August Jobs Report reveals some noteworthy statistics. For instance:

  • The economy added 187,000 jobs in August, aligning closely with the 2015-2019 average of 190,000 jobs. This consistency suggests a return to more typical levels of job growth.
  • The labor force participation rate rose by 0.2 to 63.2%, indicating that more workers are entering or reentering the job market.
  • The unemployment rate for Black workers fell by 0.6 percentage points to 5.5%, reaching its lowest level since March 2020.
  • The unemployment rate for women rose by 0.1 percentage points to 3.9%
  • The unemployment rate for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher fell by 0.1 percentage points to 2.1%, the lowest among all education levels.

Unemployment Rate Fluctuations

One of the headline figures from the August Jobs Report is the uptick in the unemployment rate, which rose to 3.8%. However, before we jump to conclusions, it’s essential to understand the nuances behind this number. This increase is not primarily due to more workers losing their jobs; it’s driven by a surge in people entering the labor force. This influx of job seekers can be seen as a positive sign, reflecting growing confidence in the job market.

Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said of the unemployment numbers:

“I’m not particularly concerned about [the] uptick in unemployment (due to a rise in participation) [and] downward revisions to payroll employment in June and July (job growth still enough to keep up with population growth and pull in people off the sidelines).”

Job Creation Continues

In August, employers added a respectable 187,000 new jobs to the workforce. While this number might seem slightly lower than in previous months, it’s crucial to consider the bigger picture. Downward revisions to June and July’s data resulted in a three-month average gain of 150,000 jobs. This slowdown indicates that the labor market is shifting from rapid expansion to a steadier pace of growth.

According to an analysis by Indeed, job postings fell the most in metros with the highest share of remote work positions. The study shows that job postings in these metros were down 24% more than the national average.

Line graph titled “Postings in high work from home metros declining.” With a vertical axis ranging from -40 to 80, it shows the year-over-year Indeed Job Postings for high work-from-home metros relative to all other metros. High work-from-home metros are declining the fastest.

This slowdown in new jobs is a good sign to many economists concerned about inflation. As Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst at, puts it, “We now see the number of job openings relative to the number of unemployed at about 1.5… That certainly is getting into better alignment.”

Moderating Wage Growth

Wage growth, while still strong, is showing signs of moderation. This is another positive development for those concerned about inflation. Workers have experienced real wage growth over the year, contributing to their purchasing power.

For instance:

  • Average hourly earnings for all employees rose by 10 cents to $30.73 in August, a 4.3% increase over the year.
  • Average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees rose by 11 cents to $25.99 in August, a 4.6% increase over the year.
  • The Consumer Price Index rose 5.4% over the year in July, slightly lower than the wage growth rate.

Wage growth, a closely watched metric, has been on the radar for some time. Over the past three months, wages for production workers have grown at a 3.9% annual rate. While this is robust, Nick Bunker, an economist at, explains that wage growth is “…on the higher end of what’s likely to be sustainable given productivity growth”. This moderation in wage growth suggests a balancing act in the labor market, avoiding the extremes that could lead to inflation concerns.

Moving from Breakneck to Steady Speed

Last year, the labor market grew at a breakneck pace, with over 400,000 jobs added monthly and wage growth exceeding 6%. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this growth rate was unsustainable in the long run. The labor market is now transitioning to a steady pace, which is not only welcome but necessary for its long-term health and stability.

Here’s a visualization of the monthly job gains from Indeed:

A graph titled “Pace of monthly job gains” shows the month-over-month gain in payroll jobs as bars, and the three-month average as a line. The vertical axis spans from 0 to 750,000 jobs. The graph shows job gains slowing down over the course of 2022 and 2023.

Average weekly working hours are holding steady, suggesting a return to normalcy.

For example:

  • The average workweek for all employees was unchanged at 34.7 hours in August, close to the pre-pandemic level of 34.4 hours in February 2020.
  • Temporary help services employment fell by 5,000 in August but was still 11% higher than in February 2020.
  • Professional and business services employment rose by 60,000 in August, most of the gains coming from computer systems design and related services (+16,000) and management and technical consulting services (+11,000).

These job growth and weekly working hours numbers point to a transition to a steady pace, which is not only welcome but necessary for its long-term health and stability.

In an analysis of this jobs report from Indeed, economist Nick Bunker explains, “The labor market was sprinting last year, and now it’s getting closer to a marathon pace. A slowdown is welcome; it’s the only way to go the distance”.

Uneven Recovery

While the overall labor market stabilizes, some industries still grapple with post-pandemic challenges. For example:

  • Leisure and hospitality added 40,000 jobs in August, making steady gains after losing over 8 million jobs in March and April 2020.
  • Nursing homes and childcare centers added 18,000 jobs in August, recovering some of the losses they suffered during the pandemic.
  • Local government education lost 20,000 jobs in August, reflecting ongoing challenges in the education sector. There were still 159,000 fewer jobs in this industry than in February 2020.

Layoffs in the trucking industry and the ongoing Hollywood writers’ strike led to job losses in those sectors.

  • Truck transportation employment fell by 5,000 in August as some trucking companies faced financial difficulties and reduced their workforce.
  • Motion picture and sound recording industries’ employment fell by 4,000 in August as the writers’ strike continued to disrupt film and TV production.

Women: Labor Force Participation Champions

In recent years, the labor landscape has undergone significant changes, with women, particularly those in the 25 to 54 age bracket, playing a pivotal role in these transformations. The August 2023 Jobs Report shines a spotlight on the remarkable contributions of women to the labor market, and their unprecedented labor force participation rates are nothing short of impressive. However, the impending expiration of childcare funding threatens to jeopardize the progress made in harnessing the potential of working mothers.

Since February 2023, women have been breaking records with their labor force participation rates, surpassing even their all-time high. As of the latest jobs report, women in the 25-54 age bracket boasted a labor force participation rate of 77.8 percent, a testament to their determination and resilience. This achievement is particularly noteworthy considering the initial widening of the gender and parental status gap during the 2020 recession. It’s also worth highlighting that these participation peaks occur during the summer, traditionally a season when participation for caregivers tends to dip, even after seasonal adjustments.

Among this group, mothers with children under five are leading the charge, fueling the upward trajectory of participation rates.

For example, for women in the 25-54 age bracket:

  • The population share increased by 0.2 percentage points from February 2020 to August 2023.
  • The participation rate increased by 1.6 percentage points from February 2020 to August 2023.
  • The net contribution to the overall change in participation was 1.8 percentage points from February 2020 to August 2023.
  • The net contribution of mothers with children under five is up 0.21 percentage points from February 2020 to August 2023.

The Hamilton Project provides this chart to visualize these statistics:

Figure 1. Prime-Age Women’s Labor Force Participation Rate 1990 to June 2023, by Age of Youngest Child at Home

The Looming Threat: Childcare Funding Expiration

As we celebrate the remarkable achievements of women in the labor force, it’s essential to acknowledge the looming threat that could derail this progress—the expiration of childcare funding. More than 70,000 childcare programs are at risk of closure when federal aid ends at the close of this month. This impending crisis threatens the hard-won labor peaks of working mothers, and the consequences could be severe.

Some of the potential consequences are:

  • A mass exodus of working mothers from the labor force, reducing their income and career prospects.
  • A worsening of labor shortages across various sectors and occupations, hampering economic growth and recovery.
  • A loss of billions in tax and business revenue for states and localities that rely on childcare as an economic engine.
  • A decline in the quality and availability of childcare services for families that need them, affecting child development and well-being.

The Century Foundation summarizes their analysis of the issue, concluding: “Our findings underscore the urgent need for immediate funding and long-term comprehensive solutions at the federal level that offer safe, nurturing, and affordable child care options to every family.”


The August 2023 Jobs Report, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, presents a labor market transitioning from rapid growth to a more sustainable pace. While the headline unemployment rate increased to 3.8%, it’s driven by more people entering the workforce, reflecting confidence in the job market.

Key data highlights include 187,000 jobs added in August, a labor force participation rate increase to 63.2%, and significant reductions in unemployment rates for Black workers and individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Although still robust, wage growth is moderating, which could alleviate concerns about inflation. The report also emphasizes the crucial role of women, particularly those in the 25-54 age group, in driving labor force participation recovery but warns that the expiration of childcare funding poses a significant threat to this progress.

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