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Why the Jobs Report Didn't Just Happen

Stocks in this article: GM AN SBUX CMG

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- August's jobs headline is so terrible that it's hard to believe. The good news is, there's a whole list of reasons not to believe it.

The government says employers created 142,000 new jobs last month, down from 212,000 in July. August's numbers were way below the 204,000 that payroll processor ADP (ADP) says private companies added in August and far below the 225,000 that economists had predicted.

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The unemployment rate fell to 6.1% from 6.2%, hourly wages rose 6 cents to $24.53, and the sum of people who are unemployed, involuntarily working part time and people who are "marginally attached" to the job market dropped.

If you believe the report, car sales hit a post-recession high in August, while both manufacturing and services indexes hit recent peaks, and yet employers hit the brakes.

It's not consistent with anything we've seen in other data, and not consistent with job growth that has been above 200,000 every month since February, and those are clear signs it will be revised upward when the government reports next month.  

Some of the big differences between the Labor Department's numbers and ADP's point to the problem.

The government says manufacturing employment was unchanged in August, while ADP found 23,000 new jobs. The government blamed seasonal-adjustment factors related to usual summer layoffs in July at automakers such as General Motors (GM) , which were smaller than usual this year. Given the indexes, not to mention the government's finding that manufacturers added 28,000 jobs in July, bet on a revision.

The government says retailers actually shed 8,000 jobs, thanks partly to a strike at a New England grocery chain that drove a 17,000 job loss at food and beverage stores. ADP doesn't break out retailers. But that loss, if it ever happened, will quickly reverse -- people haven't stopped eating.

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The government's report suggests that this month is a fluke, if not an outright mistake. The auto industry isn't contracting -- everyone knows that. Car dealers such as AutoNation (AN) added 5,000 jobs last month. The wage gains and improvement in advanced jobs metrics such as long-term unemployment and involuntary part-time employment bolster the argument.

The similarities between the Labor Department and ADP's numbers point more toward relatively strong growth, about 200,000 to 225,000 per month. Construction growth is steady, with the government finding 20,000 new jobs, mostly in specialty-trade contractors who often do renovation work.

Both the government and ADP found about 50,000 new services jobs, and the government found 22,000 new jobs in bars and restaurants -- a sign that people are spending at Starbucks (SBUX) or Chipotle Mexican Grill (KO) .

Interest rates dropped after the news, with investors plainly betting that the case for the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates soon just got weaker. But that case was weak already.

Arguably, the only thing that really just went down were the odds of Democrats crowing that the improving economy should save their Senate seats this fall. Even that change simply reflects that politics is a business where perception is reality. The jobs report will lower inattentive swing voters' perception of what's going on, for a few weeks.

But in the real world of economics, by next month's report, we'll accept that there was no sudden collapse, and today's headline will find its rightful place under the dog's bowl.

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At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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