Jobs report: U.S. added 128,000 to payrolls despite GM strike

click to enlarge Striking General Motors employees picket outside the company's Flint Engine Operations Plant in Flight, Mich., on Oct. 17, 2019. The strike affected the count for the October jobs report. - ERIN KIRKLAND/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Erin Kirkland/The New York Times
Striking General Motors employees picket outside the company's Flint Engine Operations Plant in Flight, Mich., on Oct. 17, 2019. The strike affected the count for the October jobs report.
By Ben Casselman
The New York Times Company

A major auto strike and a slowing manufacturing sector were not enough to knock the U.S. job market off course last month.

Employers added 128,000 jobs in October, the Labor Department said Friday, and revisions to prior months’ data tacked on another 95,000 jobs. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had expected a gain of about 85,000.

October’s figure would have been stronger had it not been for the strike at General Motors, which shaved close to 50,000 workers from the employment rolls, and for the layoff of some 20,000 temporary census workers.


The unemployment rate was 3.6%, up from 3.5% the month before. Average hourly earnings rose 3% from a year earlier.

All told, the report painted a picture of a job market that is weathering the storm of trade tensions and cooling global growth, largely because of a resilient, consumer-driven domestic economy.

“As long as confidence remains pretty elevated, as long as job gains continue albeit at a slower pace, and as long as those job gains continue to deliver wage growth, consumption should continue to drive the economy,” said Ben Herzon, an economist for Macroeconomic Advisers by IHS Markit, a forecasting firm.

The economy still faces challenges. Job growth in manufacturing was weak even accounting for the GM strike, and separate data from the Institute for Supply Management showed that the sector contracted in October for the second straight month. Overall economic growth has slowed this year, as businesses have pulled back on investment.


But Friday’s report, combined with other recent data, suggests that fears of an imminent recession, which mounted over the summer, were overblown.

Lately, there have been signs that the jobs engine is losing momentum. Job growth has averaged 176,000 jobs per month over the past three months, down from 222,000 over the same period a year ago.

Hiring last year got a push from the 2017 tax cuts, so some slowdown was to be expected as the effects of the cuts wore off. The question is whether hiring stabilizes at a somewhat lower level or continues to fall. Friday’s report, though only a single data point, suggests stabilization is more likely.

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