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U.S. unemployment rate in the last five years (2008-2013) 524pix

SHENG Xin/Medill News Service

The unemployment rate has been falling steadily but still remains stubbornly above 7 percent. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

August jobs report expected to show only slight improvement

by Xin SHENG
Aug 28, 2013

U.S. unemployment rate in the last five years (2008-2013)

SHENG Xin/ Medill News Service

The U.S. unemployment rate has declined since the Great Recession peak of 10 percent in 2009.

Like many others, Weifeng Sun is looking for a job now. He graduated from Northwestern University in June with a master’s degree in applied math. 

But the job search journey has not been smooth for him. “I just want a company that wants me and needs my skills, ” Sun said.

Yanzhong Deng also recently started his job search after graduating with a master’s degree in finance from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in June. 

“Although the economy is getting better, it is still not easy to get a job,” Deng said. “Especially in my industry, the finance field, we face fierce competition.”

Complicating the job hunt for Sun and Deng -- they are foreign citizens who require a work visa sponsorship if they want to work in the U.S.

Though the job market has improved over the past two years, new job growth is only moderate and the unemployment rate is stuck stubbornly above 7 percent.

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 162,000 in July, the smallest increase since March. The unemployment rate fell to 7.4 percent, the lowest level in a year-and-a-half, from 7.6 percent from in June, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Aug. 2.

Based on economists’ forecasts, the jobs report for August may show only a slight improvement.

The August unemployment rate, scheduled for release Sept. 6, is expected to be steady at 7.4 percent.  Nonfarm payroll employment is forecast to have risen by 173,000, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg LP.

Retail trade was the bright spot in July, adding 47,000 jobs in the month and 352,000 jobs over the past 12 months. 

Retail is reflecting improving consumption, said Sean Incremona, senior economist at 4Cast Inc. “There is a lot more spending recently. The July number (was) encouraging.”

However, some other analysts are concerned with the quality of July’s job increase.

Yelena Shulyatyeva, a U.S. economist with BNP Paribas, said the employment rise in the low-paying retail sector is not necessarily a great thing.

“It’s really about the quality of the job,” Shulyatyeva said. “The jobs that are being created are of poor quality; this is not the pace of job growth that you want to see for the economy moving forward.”

Shulyatyeva said the firm’s forecast for the unemployment rate in the final three months of 2013 is 7.4 percent, unchanged from July, and nonfarm payroll employment is expected to rise by an average 200,000 jobs per month, a slight improvement.

The number of long-term unemployed in July was little changed at 4.2 million. These individuals accounted for 37 percent of the unemployed. The number of long-term unemployed has declined by 921,000 over the past year.