Labor conditions improve, but U.S. work force shrinks

Employment continues to increase in the United States as unemployment rates tick down.

But even as labor conditions slowly improve, the proportion of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one has sunk to its lowest level in 35 years.

According to the latest Labor Department estimates, nonfarm payrolls grew 169,000 in August with gains spread across industry sectors. However, initial estimates for job gains in July and June were revised downward a total of 74,000 to 276,000. Given the latest numbers, payrolls have increased an average of 184,000 a month over the past year.

The unemployment rate edged down a tenth of a point to 7.3 percent in August. But the dip was attributed to a decline in the number of people counted in the labor force. Civilian labor force participation was calculated at 62.3 percent, the lowest level since 1978.

For August, employment in retail trades increased 44,000, while the health care sector added 33,000 jobs. Professional and business services added 23,000 positions. Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector increased 21,000.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up a tenth of an hour to 34.5 hours in August. The manufacturing workweek rose a tenth of an hour to 40.8 hours.

Average hourly earnings for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls increased 5 cents to $24.05 in August. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have increased 52 cents, or 2.2 percent.