Private companies added 147,000 workers in October, missing economists' estimates in the last month of a bitter presidential campaign, as construction companies and manufacturers cut payrolls.
The data from payroll processor ADP (ADP) set the stage for Friday's jobs report from the U.S. Labor Department, which will be the last major piece of economic news before remaining voters head to the polls next Tuesday. Democrat Hillary Clinton holds a narrowing lead over Republican nominee Donald Trump.
The data showed the economy basically steady, with hiring down from September as financial companies like JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Bank of America (BAC) added 18,000 workers, mitigating the drop of 15,000 workers at commercial construction businesses such as Fluor (FLR) and home builders including Toll Brothers (TOL) and KB Home (KBH) . Economists surveyed by Econoday had expected the October report to show 170,000 new jobs.
The U.S. economy has added jobs for a record 72 consecutive months, bringing the unemployment rate from a peak of 10% in 2009, shortly after President Barack Obama took office, to 5% in September.
October's jobs report is expected to show unemployment moving down to 4.9%. How much credit, or blame, any one set of politicians deserves for that is part of what voters will weigh in the presidential race as well as a close contest for control of the U.S. Senate.
"Job growth has slowed a bit over the last year, but 150,000 is a solid number, well above what's needed to absorb the growth in the working-age population," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, which compiles the data for ADP. Voters' personal circumstances "are in much better shape than right years ago ... The average American is better off."
The construction industry accounted for the entire change since last month, and for the largest chunk of the miss compared with forecasts. The industry had added 11,000 jobs in September, so its decline marked a swing of about 26,000.
"Broadly speaking, housing is OK," Zandi said. "Most of the weakness on construction trades is related to public construction."
Although employers are struggling to fill vacancies, job growth remains broad-based across most service industries and sizes of companies. The slow pace of hiring, coupled with near-record numbers of job openings and a pickup in wage growth in recent months, suggests that employers are having a harder time filling positions than they were, he added.
Ongoing retirements by baby boomers, coupled with respectable growth and monetary policy tuned to push for higher growth, are likely to keep hiring strong and wages moving upward, he said.
"The biggest macroeconomic problem we'll have is a lack of labor; we're at full employment," Zandi said. "It's going to feel good."
The job gain for September was revised upward to 202,000 jobs from 154,000, ADP said.
The job market points to a Federal Reserve interest-rate hike in December, followed by two to three rate increases in 2017, Zandi said. Inflation will reach the Fed's 2% target by next year, as declining apartment availability drives higher rents, Zandi said. The economy, which hasn't done well for lower-income workers over the past decade, is poised for some improvement as wages improve, Zandi said.
"Even though this was below consensus, it is still a sufficiently strong number to further absorb labor market slack," said Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial. "The underlying pace of job growth has slowed from where it was a year ago, which is a surprise to no one, and the Fed will remain focused on wage pressures with job growth in this range."