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"This is a lot less than I'm used to making," he said of his current job. "It's impossible to get by."
The August jobs report showed that hiring in higher-paying fields was more mixed.
Manufacturers added 14,000 jobs in August, the first gain after five months of declines. But that was more than offset by downward revisions that shaved off 26,000 jobs from June and July's figures. That left overall factory jobs in August 12,000 lower than the previous month.
Auto manufacturers added 19,000 jobs. Americans are buying more cars than at any time since the recession began in December 2007. Some of the jobs also likely reflected workers who were rehired last month after being temporarily laid off in July, when factories switched to new models.
But construction jobs were unchanged in August. And the information industry, which includes high-tech workers, broadcasting and film production, cut 18,000 jobs. The biggest losses were in the film industry.
Hiring in construction has slowed drastically from earlier in the year despite a recovery in the housing industry. The construction industry has added an average of just 2,500 jobs a month in the past six months. That compares with an average 25,500 gain in the previous six months.
Employers might have turned cautious last month as the economy slowed. And the downgraded job totals for June and July reflected a loss of government jobs that wasn't picked up initially and was likely related to federal spending cuts that kicked in earlier this year.
Government job cuts were much steeper in June and July than previously estimated. All told, they were revised lower by 38,000. That more than offset a gain of 17,000 in August. Layoffs at government contractors likely also contributed to the decline in manufacturing jobs in those two months.
The percentage of adults working or looking for work, known as the participation rate, fell to 63.2, the lowest since 1978. The rate for men, which has been declining gradually, fell last month to just below 70 percent — its lowest point on records dating to 1948.
Doug Handler, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said the decline in the male participation rate suggests that many men who once worked in areas such as manufacturing and construction are giving up on finding work rather than transitioning to another industry.
"It seems they feel that they're never going to get another job in their sector or in any other sector," Handler said.
Still, some economists suggested that an increase last month in hours worked and average hourly pay provided important boosts to Americans' pay and could support stronger consumer spending in coming months.
Average hourly earnings rose 5 cents to $24.05. Hourly pay has risen 2.2 percent in the past 12 months. That's slightly ahead of the 2 percent inflation rate over the same period.
The average hourly workweek ticked up to 34.5 from 34.4, a sign that companies needed more labor. That can lead to larger paychecks.
Earlier this week, some signs had suggested that the economy might have strengthened. Surveys of manufacturing and service firms, for example, showed that they expanded at a healthy pace in August. But Friday's jobs report dampened such optimism.
"We've lost momentum, which is disappointing," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. "But we may regain it. That's why (the jobs report) is not a slam-dunk pushing the Fed one way or the other."
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