Forecasters are expecting the report to show creation of 115,000 positions in September, up from 96,000 in August. The unemployment rate is projected to rise to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent.
New data Thursday was consistent with those expectations of weak growth and glacially slow improvement in the job market. The number of people filing new claims for unemployment insurance benefits rose to 367,000 last week, from a revised 363,000, according to a Labor Department report Thursday. Factory orders fell 5.2 percent, the Commerce Department said.
But beneath the overall details of the jobs report, there have been some less obvious trends in recent months. To understand whether the U.S. economy remains in its long funk or is starting to improve, pay attention to whether these emerging trends continued in September.
Employment-to-population ratio heading the wrong direction: The unemployment rate can go up or down for reasons disconnected from the strength of the job market. For example, if workers choose to leave the workforce — giving up their job hunts out of discouragement — the unemployment rate tends to drop. But one number filters out that effect.
The employment-to-population ratio captures the percentage of Americans who were working the previous month. And it has been weakening, falling to 58.3 percent in August from 58.6 percent in June. There are demographic reasons to expect that number to decrease over time, but it’s dropping faster than would be justified by the rising numbers of retirees. If the trend continues in September, it would be a bad sign.
Spiking unemployment for those who didn’t go to college: The unemployment rate has been steady among college graduates in recent months and has fallen among those who have some college experience. But the 37 million workers with only a high school diploma are still seeing rough times: Their unemployment rate has risen from 8.1 percent in May to 8.8 percent in August.
It is a small enough sample that it could be a weird statistical quirk, but it is a worrisome sign that this group has gone from having a jobless rate roughly equal to the U.S. average to being way above it.
A falling number of long-term unemployed: The number of people unemployed for more than 27 weeks has been on a welcome downward trend in recent months, to 5.03 million in August from 5.41 million in May. But it’s not as good as that might seem. This may well be the flip side of an opposite trend of people leaving the workforce entirely. It is easy to imagine people who have been out of work for six months saying to themselves, “Forget it,” and stopping the job hunt entirely.