And now the Federal Reserve sees 12 more weeks of winter.
The U.S. economy added 151,000 jobs in August, the Labor Department reported Friday -- missing economists' forecasts for 170,000 new positions as the nation's unemployment rate hovered at 4.9%. Combined with very weak manufacturing data released on Thursday, the jobs data makes it much less likely that the Fed will raise the target range for short-term interest rates when it meets this month.
The low number was not a total surprise -- experts like High Frequency Economics' Jim O'Sullivan have emphasized all week that the Labor Department's initial estimate for August is often low and gets raised later.
But a low number was still considered likely to stay the hand of the central bank, which backed off an expected rate increase in June and, earlier in the year, halved an initial forecast of as many as four rate hikes.
The repetitive stop-and-go scenario is reminiscent of Groundhog Day, the 1993 film in which Bill Murray played a TV reporter who lived a single day over and over until he got it right. (Murray's character had been sent to Punxsutawney, Pa., to record the activities of a groundhog, whose behavior on Feb. 2 has been traditionally linked to the timing of spring weather.)
"The Fed knows about the quirks with the August employment report and that odds are it will be revised higher," Moody's Analytics economist Ryan Sweet said. "However, they could struggle communicating the justification for hiking in September as the public's perception of August employment will be based on the first print, which differs from reality."
It's more likely that the report will convince the Fed to wait again, said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisers.
"It's not a bad report, given the previous two months and the normal vagaries of the data," Naroff said. "But it is far from strong enough to force the Fed to move, especially given the softness in manufacturing and construction."
Wages aren't doing as well as economists had forecast either, the Labor Department said. Average hourly compensation rose 3 cents to $25.73, for a 2.4% gain in the past 12 months.
With inflation low, real wages are now back to 99% of their level during the Internet boom, according to Sentier Research, and have recovered all of the damage they took in the 2007 to 2009 recession and its aftermath."One very discouraging element is the decline in weekly hours," said Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial. The average work week in July was revised downward to 34.4 hours, and the August figure was even lower, at 34.3, which means it was "a very weak month for personal-income growth," Moody said.
Hiring in cyclically sensitive sectors was all over the map in August. Manufacturers like Ford (F - Get Report) and General Electric (GE - Get Report) dropped 14,000 workers, after hiring 9,000 last month.
Construction companies shed 6,000 workers following a 14,000-job gain last month, after mixed data on new-home sales and permits for companies like PulteGroup (PHM - Get Report) and Toll Brothers (TOL - Get Report) . Retailers such as Macy's (M - Get Report) and Walmart (WMT - Get Report) added 15,100, and restaurants and bars added 34,000.
Services companies continued to set the economy's pace, much as they did in payroll processor ADP's survey of private employers, released Wednesday. Financial companies like Bank of America (BAC - Get Report) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM - Get Report) added 10,000 people, and health-care companies like HCA (HCA - Get Report) added 14,000, which is lower than the recent average of 39,000 positions.
Underemployment continues to move sideways, along with the unemployment rate. The Labor Department's measure of people who are unemployed, working part-time for economic reasons, or who haven't looked for work in the past month came in at 9.7%, unchanged from 9.7% last month and little changed from 9.9% in January.
A 9% rate is consistent with full employment and an acceleration of wage growth into next year, according to Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi.
Futures prices have put the odds of the Fed boosting rates this month at about 25%, with a 55% chance the central bank will raise rates at least once by December, according to CME FedWatch.
Friday's report is very close to the gain of 155,000 jobs that O'Sullivan had predicted after accounting for the routine August undercounting, which Moody says is due to factors as simple as summer vacations holding down the number of businesses that reply to Labor Department surveys.
It follows two very strong months of hiring, in which employers added 546,000 jobs, so economists are not taking it as a sign that the job market is weakening. But many think that a central bank that has shown a pronounced tendency to back down in the face of mixed economic news will probably wait until December now.